Atlanta Public Schools’ Equity Audit Finds Differences! by Ed Johnson

Guest Letter by Mr. Ed Johnson, Advocate for Education, Atlanta, GA

Creative Commons "I Come In Peace" by JDevaun is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Creative Commons “I Come In Peace” by JDevaun is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Ed Johnson wrote a letter in response to the Atlanta Public Schools Equity Audit which was prepared by researchers at Georgia State University to look at differences in the characteristics across schools in the APS district.  As you will see in Ed Johnson’s letter, he uses a form of thinking that looks at the APS as a whole, and not as separate schools, and applies the work of W. Edwards Deming, Russell Ackoff, and Peter Bernard to investigate equity in the context of systems thinking.

This is an important letter written by a person who for years has explored how to improve education in the Atlanta Public Schools.  It is hoped that the new Atlanta Public Schools superintendent will seek his advice, and in so doing challenge the “turn around” and “urban” mentality that dominates educational reform.

June 26, 2014

Well, of course, Atlanta Public Schools’ equity audit would find differences. Differences always exist. No two of anything are exactly the same. So the discerning question always is, what do differences mean?

In its upfront Executive Summary, the APS Equity Audit Report proclaims:

Equity audits are a relatively new tool for school systems and there are large variations in their thresholds for determining whether or not characteristics are substantially different across schools. Simple percentage difference cutoffs or using standard error calculations to generate confidence intervals of means both avoid complex questions of whether or not differences across schools are practically meaningful. This report finds substantial variations across schools on numerous characteristics, but leaves questions of whether and how to address these differences to the broad group of stakeholders concerned with educational outcomes for the students of APS.

On the one hand, the APS Equity Audit Report responsibly cautions against using “[s]imple percentage difference cutoffs or using standard error calculations to generate confidence intervals of means both [of which] avoid complex questions of whether or not differences across schools are practically meaningful,” and that is fortunate. Such figures are usually presented in business-style financial reports that often prompt reacting to and holding people “accountable” for past performance while typically providing no rational basis for predicting performance and learning into the future.

Equity from the Standpoint of Random Variation v Non-Random Variation

On the other hand, without question, although it “finds substantial variations across schools on numerous characteristics,” the APS Equity Audit Report clearly forgoes addressing “whether or not differences across schools are practically meaningful,” and that is unfortunate.

It other words, the APS Equity Audit Report does not address the very important question of what do differences mean. Do differences with respect to a particular characteristic mean something or mean nothing? To answer the question requires detecting and distinguishing differences that arise from random variation and differences that arise from non-random variation.

Random Variation Means…

Detection of differences that arise from random variation would indicate differences that mean nothing, that are not “practically meaningful.” Such differences would be due to common, ever-present systemic causes, any or all of which may be known, knowable, and unknowable.

Non-Random Variation Means…

On the other hand, detection of differences that arise from non-random variation would indicate differences that mean something, that are “practically meaningful.” In this latter case, for better or worse, such differences would be due to special causes powerful enough to dominate and stand apart from all differences due to common causes. Special causes may occur continually, irregularly, or temporarily and are generally known or knowable.

So, there are differences due to common causes that may be referred to simply as “common cause variation.” And there are differences due to special causes that may be referred to simply as “special cause variation.” Hence, there exist two kinds of variation.

Signals and Noise in the Data

Now, considering any characteristic’s data in the APS Equity Audit Report, can something be done with those data to detect and distinguish the two kinds of variation the data may contain? Asked differently, is there a way to filter the data to separate “signals” the data may contain from the “noise” the data do contain?

To do so is important so as to:

  1. avoid responding to a signal as if it were noise and
  2. avoid responding to noise as if it were a signal

To fail at either 1) or 2) is to drive up costs and generate excessive waste, unnecessarily.

Is there a Way to Detect Signals from Noise?

Indeed there is a way to detect and distinguish common cause variation and special cause variation. And it is a way even some elementary school children have learned to use in the process of continually improving their own learning. The way is to make a “process behavior chart” from the data. (The process behavior chart is much like an EKG (electrocardiogram) made to tell a story about the behavior of a patient’s heart.)

Now, from actually having made a process behavior chart for a fair number of characteristics the APS Equity Audit Report covers, none revealed any special cause variation, save a few where Forest Hill Academy was detected to represent a special cause matter, which is to be expected of APS’ alternative school.

The Inexperienced Teacher Category

For example, the process behavior chart in Figure 1 below takes a district-level look at the characteristic “Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years),” in the category “Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students” (APS Equity Audit Report, pages 179-183). The APS Equity Audit Report explains this characteristic means the proportion of students’ time spent with a teacher that has less than three years experience, and that the proportion can be expressed as a percent by multiplying by 100, which the process behavior chart in Figure 1 does.

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Figure 1: District-level Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students, Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years) ©Ed Johnson

 

The process behavior chart in Figure 1 detects only differences due to common causes, or common cause variation, or noise. All the variation ranges around the center-line average of 26 percent (26.26%) and between the lower control limit, at zero percent (0.00%), and the upper control limit, at 55 percent (54.55%). No variation exceeds the upper control limit. This means academically disadvantaged students that have a teacher with less than three years experience is a systemic matter among all APS elementary schools and not a matter for any individual schools. It would be top administration’s mistake, and abdication of their leadership responsibility, to single out Centennial Place, or Hutchinson, or M. Agnes Jones so as to hold any people there “accountable” as a special matter.

Again, Figure 1 is district-level, with all APS elementary schools taken as a system. But what about APS Region-level, with each Region taken as a system? What might process behavior charts say about how the North, East, South, and West regions of APS compare on the example characteristic being considered here?

Consider Figure 2, below. The figure comprises four process behavior charts, one for the East Region, North Region, South Region, and West Region of APS. Figure 2 makes it easy to compare the APS Regions holistically and rather straightforwardly and much at a glance. Like the district-level process behavior chart in Figure 1, each Region-level process behavior chart in Figure 2 detects no evidence of special cause variation; all differences are due to common cause variation, to noise. No differences are “practically meaningful.”

It is also quite easy to see in Figure 2 that common cause variation appears the least “spread out” around the North Region center-line average compared to the spread of variation around the other Regions’ center-line averages. Even so, if extended to the right, the North Region lower and upper control limits would cover all West Region schools as well as all South Region schools. And if extended to the left, North Region lower and upper control limits would cover all East Region schools, save Centennial Place. Thus Figure 2, like Figure 1, says differences among all APS elementary schools with respect to the example characteristic are systemic, and equitable.

Moreover, it is also quite easy to see from Figure 2 that each APS Region’s center-line average compares favorably to the district-level center-line average in Figure 1. In Figure 1, the district-level center-line average is 26.26%; in Figure 2, the four Regions’ center-lines average to 26.37%. The difference is a mere 0.11%, or roughly one-tenth of one percent.

The observations made from Figure 2 support and now extend the observation made from Figure 1. Now it can be said that academically disadvantaged students that have a teacher with less than three years experience is a systemic matter for all APS elementary schools, and is not a matter for any individual school or APS Region.

Figure 2: Region-level Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students, Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years)
Figure 2: Region-level Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students, Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years) ©Ed Johnson

Implication for Administrators, Especially Those at the Top

In addition, and much like already concluded, it would be APS top administration’s mistake, and abdication of their leadership responsibility, to single out any school or Region so as to hold any people there “accountable” as a special matter. Leadership from the top, from both the school board and the superintendency, is required. Only they can be held “accountable” in any rational way. And no manner of “accountability” pushed down from the top can substitute for the requisite leadership needed to foster collaboration with and among affected stakeholders, as a system.

Now, let’s be clear on this point: Both Figure 1 and Figure 2 present process behavior charts that evidence only equity; neither evidences inequity.

Where is the Inequity?

So, if inequity exists, then where does it exist?

Well, actually, knowing where the inequity exists comes through the story the process behavior charts in Figures 1 and 2 tell. The charts tell the story that the teacher characteristic “Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years)” has been optimized among APS elementary schools only about that singular teacher characteristic. It is a story with telltale signs of strictly systematic analytical thinking operating to the exclusion of systemic synthetical thinking. It is a story with telltale signs of believing that the whole is the sum of its parts, and that the whole can do its best only if each part does it individual best, that each part “executes with fidelity.” It is a story where teachers that have less than three years experience have been assigned quite equitably throughout APS elementary schools and to academically disadvantaged students.

And that is the rub, the genesis of the inequity, though it may seem counterintuitive.

Standardized test results have for more than a decade shown APS to be, in effect, “two systems in one,” White-Black, with Black greatly lagging. More recently, standardized test results have begun to show APS’ devolution into becoming “three systems in one,” White-Hispanic-Black, with Black still lagging.

Therefore, the inequity comes not from placing less experienced and unremarkable teachers with especially “Black” students in the APS West Region and South Region. Again, the process behavior charts in Figure 1 and Figure 2 say equity exists among all APS elementary schools with respect to the teacher characteristic “Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years).” Rather, the inequity comes from “Black” students being without greatly experienced and remarkable teachers! For example, five-weeks trained personnel by Teach for America placed with “White” students would constitute equity. However, five-weeks trained personnel by Teach for America placed with “Black” students would constitute inequity. Why? Simply because none can possibly be a greatly experienced and remarkable teacher.

Why the Inequity?

Now, why might this inequity exist? What might be its root?

Consider that the Atlanta Board of Education Policy Manual offers understanding. Specifically, Policy Number BBBC, titled “Board Member Development Opportunities,” states, in part:

The Atlanta Board of Education places a high priority on the importance of a planned and continuing program of professional development of its members. … The board considers participation in the following activities consistent with the professional development of its members: Conferences, workshops, conventions, and training and information sessions held by the state and national school boards associations and other conferences sponsored by local, state, and national educational organizations. … The list shall include, but need not be limited to, the following organizations:

  • National School Boards Association
  • Georgia School Boards Association
  • Council of Great City Schools
  • National Alliance of Black School Educators

This policy has inequity built-in. How? First, it restricts “professional development” (PD), which goes policy-wise undefined, to school board procedural matters vis-à-vis the school board associations listed. Then it more narrowly restricts PD to thinking and treating APS as an “urban” school district in need of “urban school reform” or “transformation” vis-à-vis Council of Great City Schools and similar other organizations. Then more narrowly still, the policy restricts PD to a “racialist ideology” (Fredrick Douglass) vis-à-vis National Alliance of Black School Educators.

Regressive Policy

The policy is regressive, and acts much like a funnel to direct APS into associations with persons and organizations committed to disrupting public education as a common good or who have not the wisdom to understand and value public education as a common good. The aim is the transformation of public education in especially “urban” school districts into a profit-making, free-market commodity all the while opportunistically and unashamedly co-opting Civil Rights struggles. This inequity built into school board policy and steeped in urbanism effectively keeps APS stuck in stasis and incapable of learning to continually improve, unlike the global community that is continually learning to improve.

A consequence of such inequity rooted in Atlanta Board of Education policy is the thinking that “it takes a black educator to educate a black child” made a prominent operational aspect of APS culture, and with it APS never going beyond urbanism’s boundary to seek greatly experienced and remarkable teachers to place with especially “Black” students! The inequity is such a deep, self-imposed operational aspect of APS culture that it goes virtually unspoken and unchallenged among stakeholders until it becomes convenient to use to insinuate, excoriate, or defend against allegations of maltreatment or oppression, or to conduct an equity audit.

Fortunately or unfortunately – take your pick – wisdom teaches that the problem is in here, with us, not out there, with them. But then, wisdom comes from learning, not from achievement and certainly not from merely performing.

So, isn’t it time for Atlanta Public Schools to leapfrog City of Atlanta’s modern day “Atlanta Compromise” and turn to embracing humanness more so than “race?” Isn’t it clear by now that especially “Black” children’s quality of education depend on doing so?

Kind regards,

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
O: (404) 691-9656 | C: (404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com

“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”
Diogenes of Sinope (c. 412 – c. 323 BCE)

What Sort of Teacher Preparation Programs Does the Gates Foundation Support?

Did you know that between 2008 and 2013, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided more than $37 million in funding for teacher preparation projects?

What sort of teacher preparation programs does the Gates Foundation support?

Only 8% of these funds were awarded to university teacher education programs. Ninety-two percent of the grant money was awarded to corporations including The New Teacher Project (TNTP) and Teach for America (TFA).  Michelle Rhee, a former Teach for America cadet, and former Chancellor of the D.C. schools founded and ran The New Teacher Project.   Teach for America was founded by Wendy Kopp in 1989.  Rhee has two years of teaching experience, while Kopp has no teaching experience.

So, organizations whose heads have very little practical teaching experience are likely to receive funding from the Gates Foundation, while universities with qualified and experienced educators are not likely to receive much in funding.

As you see in Figure 1, ten institutions received funding for teacher preparation from Gates.  Only four are universities. There were 20 funded grants, most of them going to two organizations, TFA and TNTP.  In each of these programs, teachers are trained during a 5-week summer term, and then assigned to a school somewhere in the country.   Under these circumstances, school districts have a pipeline of new, but uncertified and inexperienced teachers to hire, often in challenging teaching environments.

The university grants are very small in comparison to the TFA and TNTP.  The largest of the university grants was awarded to the University of Central Florida to support its TeachLivE program, a simulation for teacher development.  According to the TeachLivE website, “it provides pre-service and in-service teachers the opportunity to learn new skills and to craft their practice without placing “real” students at risk during the learning process.”

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This graph is based on data from the Gates Foundation that appeared in the Education Week article, “Follow the Money: Gates Giving for Its Teacher Agenda“, November 5, 2013.

The Gates Foundation, which is the largest private foundation on Earth, believes that teachers can be trained in a summer camp type of environment, and immediately be placed in schools to teach.  Because many of the persons that are recruited by programs such as Teach for America sign up for only two years, in the long run, this approach to teacher preparation is not sustainable.  Suggesting that uncertified and in the long run, part-time teachers is a way to staff schools with effective teachers is unfortunate.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 7.52.23 PMTeacher education makes a difference in the quality and effectiveness of professional teachers. Clinically based, and constructivist oriented teacher education program are more effective than a summer program in which pedagogy is crammed into a five-week program.  I know this first-hand because I was involved in two summer teacher education programs at Georgia State University from 1987 – 1992 (The Alternative Certification Program and the AFT Educational Research and Dissemination Program-TRIPS) Although our programs involved mentor teachers, who also received training, the programs did not compare in effectiveness to the program that emerged from our experiences.  Out of our experiences in these two programs, we developed the TEEMS program, a master’s level, full-time, clinically based program for mathematics and science teachers.

In a Journal of Teacher Education article entitled How Teacher Education Matters, Linda Darling-Hammond reviewed the literature on teacher education programs and has this to say:

Despite longstanding criticisms of teacher education, the weight ofsubstantial evidence indicates that teachers who have had more preparation for teaching are more confident and successful with students than those who have had little or none. Recent evidence also indicates that reforms of teacher education creating more tightly integrated programs with extended clinical preparationinterwoven with coursework on learning and teaching produce teachers who are both more effective and more likely to enter and stay in teaching. An important contribution of teacher education is its development of teachers’abilities to examine teaching from the perspective of learners who bring diverse experiences and frames of reference to the classroom.

Post Script

In teacher preparation there are various pathways to becoming a teacher, including teacher education programs, alternative programs, or no program.  Based on a large study of 3000 beginning teachers in New York City regarding their views on their preparation for teaching, their beliefs and practice, and their plans to remain in teaching (Darling-Hammond, Chung, and Frelow), the researchers found that:

  • teachers who were prepared in teacher education programs felt significantly better prepared across most dimensions of teaching than those who entered teaching through alternative programs or without preparation.
  • the extent to which teachers felt well prepared when they entered teaching was significantly correlated with their sense of teaching efficacy, their sense of responsibility for student learning, and their plans to remain in teaching.
  • These are significant finding in the context of the drive to place non-certified and non-prepared teachers into classrooms that typically are more demanding and require more knowledge about learning and student development than these individuals can deliver.  The knowledge base on teaching is enormous, and to think that we can prepare teachers in 5 – 8 week institutes only devalues what we know about preparing teachers for practice.

What do you think about effort of the Gates Foundation to influence the way teachers are prepared?

What Everybody Ought to Know About Teaching

In this post I am going to share some thinking about teaching that I learned along my journey as a teacher from three people.  I future posts I’ll share thoughts about teaching from other people who I’ve met along the way. What everybody ought to know about teaching is a response to what Henry Giroux calls “critical pedagogy in dark times.”  Education is dominated by conservative and neoliberal paradigms which has reduced teaching to skills, economic growth, job training, and transmission of information.

What everybody ought to know about teaching is NOT about tips for teaching, but more about the nature of education in a democratic society.  As educators ought to be advocates for a critical pedagogy that, in the words of Giroux,

connect classroom knowledge to the experiences, histories, and resources that students bring to the classroom but also link such knowledge to the goal of furthering their capacities to be critical agents who are responsive to moral and political problems of their time and recognize the importance of organized collective struggles.  (Giroux, Henry A. (2011-06-23). On Critical Pedagogy  (Kindle Location 145). Continuum US. Kindle Edition.)

There are many people who influenced my teaching and professional work including Dr. Marlene Hapai, Dr. Joe Abruscato, Dr. Julie Wiesberg, Dr. Ted Colton, Dr. Frank Koontz, Mr. Francis Macy, Mr. Sergei Tolstikov, Dr. Marge Gardner.  Each of them taught me what everybody ought to know about teaching.  Mr. Bob Jaber, Mr. Ken Royal, and Dr. Carl Rogers are featured in this post.

I am going to start with Bob Jaber.

Bob Jaber

Bob Jaber was a high school chemistry teacher who taught in the Fulton County schools (Georgia) in the 1970s and 1980s.  I first met him when he took one of my courses in the science education graduate program at Georgia State University.    While at GSU he studied advanced graduate chemistry and science education.

Here is some of what I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching from Bob Jaber.

As well as scientist, Bob Jaber was also an artist.  His work used mixed media to create textured art forms.  One of the art forms that he perfected was using colorful carpet samples to design floors, walls, and create poster size wall hangings.

Like Jacob Bronowski, the British-Polish mathematician and scientist, Bob integrated science and human values in his high school chemistry classes. Like Bronowski, Bob Jaber believed that science can be part of our world, and can create the values that humanize our experience.  I learned from Bob Jaber that values and attitudes should be as important as the content that we are teaching.  Everyone should know this about teaching, yet, in the present day, we are breaking teaching down into dozens of components, and in doing so forget that there is something much more important about teaching.  Teaching is something much more than the way it might look on the Danielson Framework for Teaching or Flanders Interaction Analysis.  Teaching is about the whole thing  on so many levels.  It’s not about skills (although they are important to know), it not about lists of content spelled out in the standards, and it’s not about the tests that are given to students.  It is harmony and holism in teaching, and to teachers like Bob Jaber, teaching is a journey of  profound and enduring connections with students.

Ken Royal

I first met Ken in the mid-1990s when he was teaching science at Whisconier Middle School, Brookfield, Connecticut. At the time I was conducting national seminars for the Bureau of Education and Research, and I met Ken at one of my seminars in Hartford. At Ken’s invitation, I visited his school and classroom, and actually presented a seminar at his school for science teachers in his district.

Here is some of what I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching from Ken Royal.

Two aspects of teaching jump out when I think about what I learned from this man.  First is his willingness to take risks, and try new stuff.  Second, Ken epitomized the experiential educator, who like Giroux believes that school should be a project intent on developing a meaningful life for all students.

His classroom was a model for the experiential science approach, and he was also a pioneer in the use of technology as a tool to enhance student learning in science. His students were involved in global conversations and research with students in at least three continents, and his students were posting results of their research using digital cameras and text at a time when the Web was in its infancy. His classroom was an environment where students were involved in active inquiry, and with the rapid development of technology in the 1990s, Ken was one of the leaders pioneering ways that this technology could be harnessed to help students get excited about science. He later became technology coördinator for the Brookfield School District, and then started writing as a freelancer about technology, and making presentations around the country. Scholastic saw one of his presentations, and hired him as senior editor in technology and teaching.  You can follow Ken on his website at Royal Reports.

One of his most popular blog posts is Flipped, Blended, Disrupted Nonsense!  It’s a must read.

Carl Rogers

Carl R. Rogers
Carl R. Rogers

While I was a graduate student at Ohio State University in the 1960s (yup, that’s right), my advisor, Dr. John Richardson, suggested that I read Carl Rogers’ book, On Becoming a Person.  You can read between the lines, but I think he had something in mind for me.  But later in my life, when I read what others have written about this book by Rogers–that it was revolutionary thinking–did I realize how significant Richardson’s recommendation was for me.

In 1969, the year that I finished my Ph.D. at Ohio State, Rogers published Freedom to Learn, the most important book published to date on humanistic education.  The book became the guide that I used as a professor of science education at Georgia State University, where I worked from 1969-2003.  It was a guide in the sense that it encouraged me to be experimental with my courses, and the programs that I developed, and working with others at GSU, had the gumption to swim upstream away from more traditional approaches to teaching and especially, teacher education.

Here is some of what I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching from Carl Rogers.

I learned so much from Rogers’ work, that I’ll only share some of the ideas that I think influenced the way that I designed courses, and programs at the University level, and in so doing encouraged K-12 teachers to consider Rogers’ ideas for their own classrooms.

One idea I want to share here is the notion of being willing to be experimental as a teacher, and to have the courage to try new ideas, and be willing to be open to the opinions and ideas of your students.  In Rogers’ book, Freedom to Learn, Chapter Two is entitled “A Sixth Grade Teacher Experiments.”  Rogers describes the despair and frustration that teacher Barbara J. Shield felt, so much so, that she tried a drastic experiment in her classroom by promoting an experiential type of learning in her classroom.  Rogers tells us that Shield decided to change the way she was teaching which she described as teacher centered to an approach based on student-centered  teaching–an unstructured or non-directive approach.  What’s important about this chapter is not the particular approach that Shield unleashed in her class, but the attitude and philosophy underpinning her wish to change what she was doing, and try out something that was new (to her), risky, and took courage, and support.

In the summer of 1973 I designed a graduate seminar at GSU for teachers that was based on Rogers’ ideas in Freedom to Learn, but especially, Chapter 2.   Teachers who took the course knew in advance that it was the intent of the course to encourage experimentation in their own classroom during the 1973-1974 school year.  About 30 teachers signed up for the course.  Our sessions were designed to explore a variety of pedagogics, and approaches to give the participants ideas to help them formulate their plans for the school year.  Some of the teachers actually took the experience of Barbara Shield’s and reorganized the curriculum of their course (usually in science) along the non-directive, student-centered approach.  Other participants delved into project based teaching, team teaching, collaborative and cooperative learning.  All the teachers agreed to collect “data” on their own and their students attitudes and concepts learned, but also to sample student work, as well as student journals.  In the summer of 1974, a second seminar was held at GSU (which met only for one week), where the teachers presented their work in a conference type of setting.

A second idea I want to share here that I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching comes from Rogers’ book On Becoming a Person.  The same chapter also appears in his book, Freedom to Learn.  The title of the chapter in each book is Personal Thoughts on Teaching and Learning (Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy . Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.  The very short chapter is a talk he gave at Harvard University, April 1952 where he was asked to put on a demonstration of “student-centered teaching.”  After taking some time painting, writing and photography in Mexico, he “sat down” and wrote a personal view of what his experiences had been with teaching and learning.  He said this about what he wrote:

I may have been naïve, but I did not consider the material inflammatory. After all the conference members were knowledgeable, self-critical teachers, whose main common bond was an interest in the discussion method in the classroom. I met with the conference, I presented my views as written out below, taking only a very few moments, and threw the meeting open for discussion. I was hoping for a response, but I did not expect the tumult which followed. Feelings ran high. It seemed I was threatening their jobs, I was obviously saying things I didn’t mean, etc., etc. And occasionally a quiet voice of appreciation arose from

Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 4256-4260). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

What he said influenced me throughout my entire career as a science teacher educator, in my work as a seminar leader for the Bureau of Education and Research, and in my work with colleagues in other nations through the Global Thinking Project.  Here is just an excerpt of what Rogers said in 1952 in Boston at Harvard:

a. I may as well start with this one in view of the purposes of this conference. My experience has been that I cannot teach another person how to teach. To attempt it is for me, in the long run, futile.

b. It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential, and has little or no significant influence on behavior. That sounds so ridiculous I can’t help but question it at the same time that I present it.

c. I realize increasingly that I can only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior. Quite possibly this is simply a personal idiosyncrasy.

d. I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.

e. Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another.

Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 4283-4290). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

I took what Rogers said seriously, and to some extent acted on it while I was at GSU.  I did away with tests in my courses, because I agreed with Rogers that most of what we test is inconsequential, and as a result there was no reason for tests.  I couldn’t do away with grades, but I could create different systems in which grading was student-centered.  Here is what I did in nearly all my courses:

All class sessions were experiential encounters that were designed as informally as possible.  On the first day of class I arranged with the on campus food caterers to have coffee, juice, fruit and cookies delivered to my classroom just before class began.  Nearly all my students were full-time teachers, and after a full day of teaching, food and drink seemed to be the ticket.  In some courses, we took two weeks to work out the curriculum with the students.  In other courses, students were encouraged to try any of the activities that were done in class back in their elementary, middle or high school.  If special materials were required, such as ozone monitoring strips, or chemical powders, they were provided.

But in nearly all the courses, the only requirements that were expected were drawn from Rogers’ chapter on his way of facilitating a class as outlined in Freedom to Learn.  As Rogers points out, every instructor has her own style of facilitating the learning of her students.  And I also agreed that there is not one way of achieving this.  The requirements that I outline here, worked for me, and my students.   This is what I gave the students on the first day of class in the form of a handout.

Course requirements for students taking my courses at Georgia State University
Course requirements for students taking my courses at Georgia State University. Rogers, Carl (1961). On becoming a person. Columbus: Merrill Publishers 

What would you like to add about What Everybody Ought to Know About Teaching? Who influenced you, and what were the consequences in your professional work?

Inverse Relationship between Common Standards & Innovative Science Teaching?

Is there an inverse relationship between the use of common standards and innovative and differentiated science teaching?

I saw a former science education student today as I walking into the local Home Depot.  He is currently teaching physics at a local high school.  He earned his second master’s degree in science education in the TEEMS teacher preparation program at Georgia State University and was also a research assistant for the Global Thinking Project.

He told me that the Common Core State Standards were being implemented in his school district, and he said that there was disconnect between the district’s pressure to differentiate instruction and use innovative methods with the students and these common standards. Continue reading “Inverse Relationship between Common Standards & Innovative Science Teaching?”

Teach for America Needs to Evolve to a Realistic Teacher Education Program: Part 1

There are two parts to this discussion which examines why I think Teach for America needs to evolve to a realistic teacher education program, and not continue putting uncertified and according to the research not as effective as certified teachers in America’s classrooms.

Here is Part 1.  You can read Part 2 here.

Snubbing Teaching for America

There was an article in the Atlanta Journal entitled Snubbing Teach for America (TFA) hurts students. It was written by a first year Teach For America recruit who works in the metro-Atlanta area.  Her comments were very typical for TFA recruits—embracing optimism and exuberance as well as a passion for teaching.  This teacher was concerned that snubbing TFA would hurt students.  If she were to read this blog post, she would find that the case is that TFA might actually be hurting public education.

She also wrote that she was concerned why Cobb County won’t hire her or fellow TFA peers.  She had read that Cobb County recently decided not to hire 50 TFA teachers.  Unfortunately the Cobb County Board of Education never really made a decision hire TFA recruits.  The item never got on the Boards agenda because the chair of the Board didn’t think the proposal would pass.

However, Cobb County is one of the few public school systems that has refused to hire TFA recruits.  TFA has made inroads into hundreds of urban and rural districts around the country, and is now expanding its brand around the world.  TFA was founded in 1989 by a Yale University Graduate at a time when there was a shortage of teachers, and at the same time when many alternative routes to teaching were being introduced and explored.

Experiences with (Alternative) Teacher Education

Tagxedo Map of This Post on Teacher Education

TFA recruits students with undergraduate degrees from elite colleges around the country.  The idea was that graduates from these universities would perform a service to America by agreeing to teach for at least two years in largely urban, and poor neighborhoods.

The graduates that apply for TFA are not very different from the students in science education that we worked with for more than 30 years at Georgia State University.  Applicants for secondary science teaching held at least a bachelors degree in science or engineering.  Students that applied for GSU programs came from a wide range of universities including Agnes Scott, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Clark College, Emory University, Duke University, MIT, Spelman, University of North Carolina and many more.  One of the differences between students that applied to GSU compared to those who apply to TFA is that GSU applicants wanted to make a career of teaching, not necessarily view teaching as a temporary a service to society as is the case with TFA.

Two programs were developed at Georgia State University in the late 1980s, the TRIPS program in the Atlanta Public Schools, and the Alternative Certification Program at Georgia State University, which was funded by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission prior to the creation of TFA.  Many states and school districts were experimenting with alternative programs designed to place uncertified teachers into the classroom.  In some cases, recruits only had to pass a teacher entrance examination, while many programs included a “summer institute or program” prior to classes that began in the Fall.  The institutes ranged in length from 3 – 8 weeks, and were crash programs that attempted to get the new recruits ready for the classroom in the fall.

TRIPS (1987 – 1989) The TRIPS program was based on the AFT Educational Research and Dissemination (ER&D) Program under the leadership of AFT’s Lovely Billups.  This alternative program recruited secondary teachers in foreign language, mathematics and science to teach in the Atlanta Public Schools.  TRIPS was a collaborative project among the Atlanta Public Schools, Georgia State University, Clark-Atlanta University and AFT.  TRIPS programs were initiated by the AFT in several urban settings around the country.  TRIPS teachers engaged in summer institute followed by teaching in an Atlanta high school in math, science or foreign language.  TRIPS teachers were assigned a reduced teaching load (4 classes instead of 5) and a mentor teacher, who also had a reduced teaching load. Each TRIPS intern was also supervised by professors from GSU and Clark-Atlanta University.   The reduced teaching load for TRIPS teachers and their mentors facilitated mentoring, and allowed the mentor teachers to engage in conferences, planning sessions, classroom observations, and reflective sessions.

Alternative Certification Program (ACP)  (1988 – 1992) A program funded by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission characterized by an 8-week summer institute followed by teaching in a public school and paired with a mentor teacher.  Mentor teachers were prepared through a summer institute prior to school year.  Although similar to the TRIPS program, this program was larger, and in the long run lead to the TEEMS program which is the secondary teacher education program at GSU.

The ACP began at GSU with a grant to fund thirty teachers (10 in each field) to attend a full-time summer institute in Athens, Georgia.  Mentor teachers were prepared for their role for a one-week institute with the ACP teachers.  School districts from around the state participated in the ACP.  In the last three years of the ACP, three universities in Georgia received funding to prepare 30 foreign language, mathematics and science teachers.  The curriculum of the Summer Institute was based on pedagogical content knowledge in the content areas, special education, and foundations of education.  Since the programs were localized, bi-monthly seminars among the ACP teachers were held on the campus of each university (North Georgia College, Georgia State University, and Georgia Southern).

For the summer institute, the program designed for the science majors was a reconnaissance of field of science teaching organized as a constructivist community of practice.  We took an inquiry-oriented approach which fostered a constructivist environment in which prospective teachers used inquiry strategies to learn pedagogical skills, explored the nature of student learning in the context of schools, and reflected on their own learning.  The institute was experiential in nature, and involved these future teachers, each of whom held a degree in science or engineering, in reflective discussions, hands-on, minds-on activities, creative lesson design, cooperative learning, and micro-teaching.

In the end, we used our experience to design and implement an “alternative” teacher education program that recruited students in mathematics, science and engineering, but the program was 15 months long, included three clinical teaching experiences in a middle and high schools in the Atlanta.  This full time graduate program led to certification and a masters degree in mathematics or science education.  It was started in 1993, and is the only program at GSU used to prepare secondary teachers. The program was named TEEMS.

Attributes of the TEEMS Teacher Education Program, GSU

The TEEMS Program (1993 – present) TEEMS (Teacher Education Environments in Mathematics and Science) is a Master’s level program for science and mathematics majors with field based internships in middle and high schools based on a humanistic/constructivist model.  Aspiring teachers applying to the TEEMS program came from science, mathematics, and engineering departments throughout the Southeast, and brought with them high levels of content knowledge, strong interpersonal skills, enthusiasm, and a commitment to becoming a career teacher.  Each TEEMS recruit was interviewed by a team of professors from mathematics and science education faculty, and professors from science and mathematics departments.

The TEEMS program was based on the theory of “realistic teacher education” (Korthagen and Kessells) , an approach that goes from practice to theory.  As much as possible, theory and practice were merged with the intention of diminishing the gap between practice and theory.  This was accomplished by engaging students in real problems encountered by teachers in clinical experiences, both on campus and in classrooms.

The TEEMS program was based on these characteristics:

  • reflective and constructivist models of learning
  • holistically organized pedagogical curriculum experiences
  • learner-centered instruction in which students engage in a series of experiential and field-based experiences to learn about mathematics and science teaching
  • a partnership with the public and independent schools of Georgia by centering much of the instruction in middle schools and high schools

TEEMS, beginning as an alternative teacher education program, was morphed into a “traditional” teacher education program that promoted progressive, student centered teaching methods.  In his research  TEEMS, Dr. Michael Dias, professor of biology and science education at Kennesaw State University, wanted to know if this experiential program could narrow the gap between theories of science teaching and the practice of science teaching.  Dr. Dias followed four TEEMS’ graduates throughout their first year of teaching.  Using qualitative methods (interviews, observations, teacher journals and artifacts), Dr. Dias found that there was some congruence represented in their work that showed a narrowing of the the theory-practice gap.  Although the teachers found it difficult to implement a full repertoire of inquiry teaching methods, they were able to act on the social/experiential design of the TEEMS program.

TEEMS teacher preparation at GSU now includes English, ESOL, Mathematics, Middle Level Education, Social Studies, and Science

Teacher Education Matters.

In a Journal of Teacher Education article entitled How Teacher Education Matters, Linda Darling-Hammond reviews the literature on teacher education programs and has this to say:

Despite longstanding criticisms of teacher education, the weight ofsubstantial evidence indicates that teachers who have had more preparation for teaching are more confident and successful with students than those who have had little or none. Recent evidence also indicates that reforms of teacher education creating more tightly integrated programs with extended clinical preparationinterwoven with coursework on learning and teaching produce teachers who are both more effective and more likely to enter and stay in teaching. An important contribution of teacher education is its development of teachers’abilities to examine teaching from the perspective of learners who bring diverse experiences and frames of reference to the classroom.

Our experiences at GSU, which continue today, show that teacher education is a major factor in helping aspiring teachers become successful and effective with students.  We were never in the business of preparing teachers that would be primarily used to boost student test scores, but to work with individuals within the context of a cadre of learners in public schools that were close to the campus of Georgia State University.

In teacher preparation,  as I have shown here in the case of Georgia State University, there are various pathways to becoming a teacher, including teacher education programs, alternative programs, or no program.  Based on a large study of 3000 beginning teachers in New York City regarding their views on their preparation for teaching, their beliefs and practice, and their plans to remain in teaching (Darling-Hammond, Chung, and Frelow), the researchers found that:

  • teachers who were prepared in teacher education programs felt significantly better prepared across most dimensions of teaching than those who entered teaching through alternative programs or without preparation.
  • the extent to which teachers felt well prepared when they entered teaching was significantly correlated with their sense of teaching efficacy, their sense of responsibility for student learning, and their plans to remain in teaching.
  • These are significant finding in the context of the drive to place non-certified and non-prepared teachers into classrooms that typically are more demanding and require more knowledge about learning and student development than these individuals can deliver.  The knowledge base on teaching is enormous, and to think that we can prepare teachers in 5 – 8 week institutes not only devalues what we know about preparing teachers for practice.

In Part 2 of this discussion, we take a closer look at Teach For America, and suggest some ways that Teach for America could become a realistic teacher education program.

Do you think teacher education matters?  If you are a teacher, how effective was your teacher education program?