Welcome to The President’s Perspective blog. Here, AACTE President and CEO Dr. Sharon Robinson elaborates and shares her thoughts on important, timely topics in educator preparation.
I had the honor of attending a half-day conference at the White House last month celebrating the Operation Educate the Educators program, a joint initiative of AACTE and the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) to better prepare school personnel to meet the needs of military-connected children.
The April 13 event marked not only the Month of the Military Child but also the 5-year anniversary of Joining Forces, a critical initiative launched by First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden to support military families’ health, education, and employment. Operation Educate the Educators is a key player in the education component, comprising an impressive array of programming at more than 100 AACTE member institutions and others across the country. Biden also spoke on a related panel earlier in the week at the American Educational Research Association conference.
It’s axiomatic that experts in a field are better equipped than outsiders to design interventions that will work. Yet in education, we face a constant barrage of external reform efforts that fail to incorporate professional knowledge and expertise—and they just don’t work.
This point is reinforced in recent research out of the National Education Policy Center. In this study, Marilyn Cochran-Smith and her colleagues at Boston College (MA) examine the evidentiary base underlying four national initiatives for teacher preparation program accountability and improvement. They find that only one of the initiatives—the beginning-teacher performance assessment edTPA, designed and managed by the profession—is founded on claims supported by research. With a measure that is valid, scoring that is reliable, and therefore results that are accurate, we have a serious tool for program improvement.
As performance assessment of teacher candidates becomes more widespread and as more video evidence is collected in classrooms, we have to make sure that everyone involved with these videos—and other artifacts assembled for assessment purposes—understands how they may and may not be used. I’m pleased to report that a broad base of educators, convened by AACTE to bring various stakeholders’ perspectives to the discussion, is making promising strides to help safeguard the personal information of both teacher candidates and the students in their classes.
I wrote about the importance of this topic last year (see “Safeguarding Student Data Is Everyone’s Business”), celebrating the White House’s call for heightened attention to protecting students’ digital privacy. The whole education field must engage in this campaign, and AACTE takes its role seriously. Since last fall, we have been convening an Information Privacy Task Force to develop principles regarding the secure and ethical use of classroom video and associated materials collected in performance assessments of newly prepared teachers.
Have you tried walking around with just one eye open? It’s tough: Your field of vision is limited; your balance suffers; you lack depth perception. Our brains need a variety of signals to bring the world into focus—and of course, this holds true not only for eyesight, but for our comprehension of just about everything.
Educator preparation is no exception. To help us meet the demands of professional practice, we form partnerships that span varying perspectives. One-dimensional views issued from the academy are as unhelpful as those emanating from the state house. But we find meaning and make progress on the tough questions when we tackle them from many angles at once, embracing complexity as an element that is essential to moving forward.
AACTE’s upcoming Annual Meeting—a convening primarily for teacher educators—will bring in these key viewpoints with significant participation from the world of practice and beyond. Beginning with preconference events and running through sessions large and small, this conference will provoke new insights on problems of practice through multidimensional views.
On December 10, after many painful years of wrestling with the heavy-handed No Child Left Behind Act and state waivers that were often more prescriptive than the law itself, educators finally got a new federal law governing PK-12 education. Its replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), promises to return power to the states, reduce accountability burdens, and broaden the scope of support for students with the greatest needs. I join my fellow educators around the country in celebrating these improvements.
Nonetheless, there are lemons lurking among the plums in the new ESSA. This law contains more concessions to reformist entrepreneurs and venture philanthropists than many of us would like. For example, one provision in Title II allows states to create charter-like “academies” for preparing teachers and principals for high-need schools—an idea that has been debated for several years and widely opposed by education organizations. Now that it is part of the law, however, we will do well to heed Maya Angelou’s advice: if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. So let’s celebrate the plums and then get busy making lemonade.
Today, USA Today published a special centerfold feature on literacy in America, accompanied by a digital campaign by Mediaplanet. I was pleased to have the opportunity to author a piece for the campaign, published as “Expanding Literacy Beyond Language Arts.” In the article I describe work that colleges of education are doing to boost literacy among America’s PK-12 students. The 275 words available in USA Today scarcely begin to tell this story, but the message is an important one to get out. Here are a few additional words I’d like to share.
Literacy has become a keystone for all other learning, particularly because of our changing expectations around assessment. Beginning with the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act and evolving into today’s college- and career-ready standards such as the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, students now must show competence in all disciplines via writing, speaking, and critical thinking.
It’s sad but true: In October, a veteran teacher in Florida resigned because the conditions under which she was required to work did not support best practice. Despite her love of teaching and her “highly effective” ratings in evaluations, Wendy Bradshaw was trapped in an untenable position because she was required to deploy practices that were developmentally inappropriate for her young students.
Based on her extensive training in human growth and development, this highly credentialed professional with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees would not persist in activities that she knew to be harmful to her students. “Developmentally appropriate practice is the bedrock upon which early childhood education best practices are based, and has decades of empirical support behind it,” she writes in her resignation letter. “However, the new reforms not only disregard this research, they are actively forcing teachers to engage in practices which are not only ineffective but actively harmful to child development and the learning process.”
As the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and their kindred iterations continue to gain traction in schools around the country, staff development efforts have been bringing in-service educators up to speed, and colleges of education have been adjusting their curricula to ensure that the field’s newest professionals are also ready for the new standards. Nowhere has this shift seen greater success than in Kentucky, which was the first state to adopt and implement CCSS. A recent AACTE webinar sponsored by the Learning First Alliance’s “Get It Right” campaign highlighted the remarkable progress made by institutions in the state.
Last week, AACTE hosted an annual technology summit for the leaders of 10 teacher educator associations that formed a coalition in 2000 around educational technology and educator preparation. This 2-day event has witnessed or directly led to some amazing developments over the years, ranging from research to tools to entirely new technologies, as coalition members serve as a unique focus group and visionary working network bridging education and industry.
Sometimes the story is as good as the headlines, and sometimes it’s even better. The New York Times op-ed “Teachers Aren’t Dumb” (Sept. 8) by Psychologist Daniel T. Willingham is a case in point. As Willingham notes, contrary to popular belief, new teachers are solid academic performers. And as his article asserts, they can benefit from the research on effective teaching that is being conducted in the schools of education that prepare them. Willingham also points out—with rhetorical hyberbole—that not all preparation programs are using the latest research. While program quality varies, the excellent preparation provided by the universities whose researchers he cites illustrates that teacher education has strong exemplars. Unfortunately, Willingham does not acknowledge the widespread change within the education preparation community.
The direction of today’s preparation programs is truly good news. Willingham accurately identifies two guiding principles for improving teacher preparation and program accountability: evaluate programs based on graduates’ performance on a rigorous, credible culminating assessment, and base that assessment (and programs’ content) on evidence of what works best for student learning.