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MSPnet Blog: “My candidate for a panacea (well, almost) for education”

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posted September 5, 2014 – by Brian Drayton

Society has always had high expectations of teachers. It has now become a commonplace that education is the engine of progress (sometimes expressed in economic terms, or “innovation”), and while many policy makers and others create, revise, improve, debate, and sometimes deploy subject-matter standards (for better student learning or test performance), others have turned their attention to teachers and teacher quality. There is a lot of discussion, a blizzard of white papers from a crowd of think tanks, and some research and policy formation, about how to measure teacher quality, and what to do with the measurements once accomplished.  We will return to VAMs and similar things in future.  The evidence about the impact of teacher PD on teacher practice, and of teacher practice in turn on student learning (however measured) is equivocal at best.

At the moment, however, I take it as an article of faith that teachers should learn as well as teach, and that they need space to grow and to practice. It’s interesting how controversial this is, at least here in the US of A.

Sara Mosle has a cogent column in the Atlantic Monthly, reproduced here at Larry Cuban’s blog.  Mosle responds to Elizabeth Green’s new book Building a Better Teacher (some of whose contentions are critiqued by Tom Loveless here).   She covers a lot of topics, but ends up centering on one:  Time.  Time for teachers to learn, think, collaborate, and practice.  This is something that used to be on the agenda for education reform, but not any more under our current “reform” regimes.  Why not?

I have been in schools where teachers did not make good use of prep time and faculty meetings and PD “release days.”  There was no culture of critique and improvement as a faculty, no negotiation of values.  Sometimes grappling with new standards or new tests provided a pretext for such discussions, but once the “external threat” was gone, the practice of debate about ideas and practices — in specific, personal, concrete terms — disappeared.

But before one can create an intellectual culture, there needs to be some space and permission, nay, desire and intent for it, and this is not part of current policies.   If metacognition is an essential skill for learners, how much more for teachers! It’s a waste and a shame not to address this, I say.


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"Building a better teacher" by Elizabeth Green

posted by: Andy Zucker on 9/22/2014 10:19 am

I agree with Brian that teachers need more time for reflection, planning, and working together. Perhaps there are unusual schools or districts where teachers' work patterns are very different from the norm, and provide them with more non-teaching time. If so, I am not familiar with research or case studies about them.

Elizabeth Green's book is not perfect but which book is? I would have liked to see attention paid in text to a few more important research studies, for one thing*. Nonetheless, the book is remarkable and brings to life through excellent journalism first-rate research (some funded by NSF), conducted over decades, in a way that is understandable to policymakers and the public. I highly recommend the book (which is much better than the New York Times article excerpted from it).

* Example of a pertinent study: Hill, Rowan & Ball's 2005 article, "Effects of teachers' mathematical knowledge for teaching on student achievement."