Preparing for Test Prep

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Speaking of improving teacher quality, the US Department of Education recently proposed new standards for teacher preparation programs. And if you were wondering if Arne and friends would try to tie teacher prep to standardized tests in some way, of course they would.

Under the plan, the federal government would require states to issue report cards for teacher preparation programs within their borders, including those at public universities and private colleges, as well as alternative programs such as those run by school districts and nonprofits such as Teach for America.

The rating systems, which would need approval by the Education Department, would for the first time consider how teacher candidates perform after graduation: whether they land jobs in their subject field, how long they stay and how their students perform on standardized tests and other measures of academic achievement. [emphasis mine]

I guess the colleges rated “effective” or “exceptional” will be the ones that do the best job of helping prospective teachers learn innovative test prep techniques.

Well, I suppose including alternative prep programs like TFA is a positive. Right?

For a more on this stupid idea of teacher preparation programs having a direct and actionable effect on student test scores, read this from out there in lawyer-land.

Stamping Out Great Teachers

I’m listening to Seth Godin’s Linchpin1 and early in the book he makes these observations about our education system and teachers.

Why is society working so hard to kill our natural born artists? When we try to drill and practice someone into subservient obedience, we’re stamping out the artist that lives within.

Let me be really clear. Great teachers are wonderful, they change lives. We need them.

The problem is that most schools don’t like great teachers. They’re organized to stamp them out, bore them, bureaucratize them, and make them average.

Godin’s usual focus is business and marketing but he’s also written some very insightful pieces on American education. For more, download his manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams, “a series of provocations” that he hopes will lead to people taking action, and watch his TEDx talk of the same title.


  1. I know it’s three years old. I’m always behind on my reading

What Does Your “Research” Really Say?

An essay by an English teacher posted in the wonderful Post blog The Answer Sheet 1 offers Seven things teachers are sick of hearing from school reformers.

It’s all good, worth your time to read and pass along, and she probably could have added eight or ten more. But this is one that really stands out.

4. Don’t tell us “The research says…” unless you’re willing to talk about what it really says.

It’s not that we don’t care about research, but that most often when research is mentioned in a school context, it is used to end legitimate conversation rather than to begin it, as a cudgel to silence us rather than an opening to engage us constructively. Very often when confronted with a “research says” claim that I find dubious or irrelevant, I ask for a citation and get a blank or vaguely menacing stare, or some invented claim about the demands of the Common Core, or a single name, “Marzano,” as though he completed all instructional research.

Research on children and learning is difficult to do right and the best you can say about almost studies in this area is that they are incomplete. However, at the very least those education “experts” pontificating on research should be required to read past the executive summary.

Oh, and I’m one more teacher who’s tired of “Marzano” being cited as the solution to everything.


  1. And there isn’t much wonderful in the Washington Post these days, on paper or the web.

Vision Doesn’t Come Cheap

For as long as I can remember, we’ve heard the statistics about the high turnover rate among new teachers.  The numbers vary depending on the study but reports say that anywhere from 30 to 50% of teachers leave the profession in their first five years.

A churn rate like that in the professional ranks of most corporations would be cause for concern, with a battery of VPs and consultants looking for ways to fix a situation that wastes a lot of money for things like recruitment and training. In education, it’s just one more problem to ignore.

As with most issues in education, the reasons for this high turnover are complicated. But for anyone interested in a solution, this might be a good place to start.

The perceived low status of teaching is also a serious obstacle to keeping teachers in classrooms. So, of course, are compensation issues and questions of how teachers’ effectiveness is evaluated, the subject of frequent and corrosive headlines that often reduce teaching to test scores.

Not surprisingly, many new teachers reported a phase where they felt disillusioned, defeated, and a deep sense of having failed. Teachers who have been academic high-achievers often cannot deal with this sense of failure; they have been hard-working, motivated, and successful in virtually everything they have done. They blame themselves for not better overcoming the shortcomings of the system and soon begin to believe they are not good teachers.

It doesn’t help when politicians and pundits also blame teachers for everything wrong with schools (as well as the economy), while at the same time cutting support wherever possible.

The writer of this piece concludes that we need to renew a “broad vision” for the teaching profession based on the ideas of former Harvard president Derek Bok: “Education institutions [must] assume the responsibility to cultivate interests and supply the knowledge that will help young people make more enlightened choices about how to live their lives.”.

That’s very inspirational. But is our society prepared to pay for that vision?

Proud of Being Ignorant

Seth Godin ended his post yesterday with this idea

I confess that I’m amazed when I meet hard-working, smart people who are completely clueless about how their industry works, how their tools work…

It never made sense to be proud of being ignorant, but we’re in a new era now. Look it up.

I’m also amazed at the number of smart, hard-working teachers and administrators I meet who are largely clueless about technology. Both the tools available to improve their professional practice as well as the devices being carried by many of their students that could be leveraged in the service of learning.

What’s worse is that many of them are still proud of their ignorance. Or at least of their unwillingness to expand their ideas of what learning could be.