DFER, Etc., Etc., Etc.: Get Bold or We’ll Get Dusted (Again)

Here’s a provocative guest post from Public Impact’s Bryan and Emily Hassel:

Our friends at Democrats for Education Reform and a long list of education reform organizations last week released their recommendations for ESEA reauthorization provisions addressing teacher quality.

Although we see nothing objectionable there, even if our nation managed to pass and fully implement such legislation over the coming decade, we would still be far behind where other nations that best us were a decade ago. Proposals by the other party tend to leave education up to state legislators, on whose watch education has plateaued and declined. What’s the alternative?

If our nation is remotely serious about being competitive economically, we need a well-educated populace whose skills and competencies match higher-value, higher-wage roles in the global marketplace. We do not need just to close U.S. racial and economic achievement gaps. We need every student who achieves standards to leap ahead.

The only way to accomplish that is to put excellent teachers, the top 20 to 25 percent who achieve well over today’s “year of learning progress,” in charge of every child’s learning—consistently. With today’s merely solid teachers, those who achieve a full year of progress, students who start behind stay behind, and those in the middle do not leap ahead. Moreover, the current teacher pool feeds the anemic principal pipeline, meaning excellent teachers are regularly pulled from instruction—or forced to work under inadequate leaders.

We see three major ways to induce the significant will needed to put an excellent teacher in charge of every child’s learning. We must, at the federal or state level:

  • Limit who can teach to top high school graduates, with further screening for behavioral competencies of excellent teachers;
  • Offer large financial incentives for districts, schools, and teachers when they produce high-growth learning; and
  • Create a new civil right to excellent teachers, one that parents and students can enforce legally when a child is behind standards, not making a full year of progress annually, or has not had an excellent teacher in a subject for two years running.

We’re open to equally powerful ideas. Let’s hear them, but no more of the weaker versions that we all know from experience won’t get this field moving.

The only way to implement any of these reforms successfully, within budget and at scale, is to help excellent teachers increase their productivity: swap portions of their time with digital instruction so they can teach more classes; let them delegate nonessential tasks to other adults; use digital tools to save time on instructional monitoring and planning; put them in charge of other teachers; and let them have more students to nurture under their strong wings. Find discussion of these options and more in Seizing Opportunity at the Top (policy options to reach every child with excellent teachers), Opportunity at the Top (why we must), and 3X for All (how we can). This is not new: Other professionals, whose jobs and pay aren’t frozen into molds, started making these changes for themselves a half-century ago.

Public Impact, with help from teachers and others, will soon begin releasing designs that clarify how to make these changes in schools, within budget, and pay excellent teachers more for the additional children they reach. “How to” models will help, but without major policy changes to induce the will, all evidence is that schools simply won’t budge—not even the ones that already can (e.g., charter schools).

ESEA could also help. At a minimum, it could:

  • Require states to identify excellent teachers immediately (even if full-blown evaluation systems take longer to develop);
  • Require reporting of the percentage of students reached by teachers at each effectiveness level, not just the percentage of teachers at different effectiveness levels—rewarding places that increase the productivity of excellent teachers; and
  • Make federal funding contingent on clearing barriers that keep excellent teachers from reaching more students, such as limits on their pay, class sizes, and non-teaching staff who could monitor digital instruction.

Absent will-inducing provisions, though, ESEA is grossly inadequate. Policy and political leaders at all levels: Our nation needs us to step up.

— Bryan C. Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel, Public Impact

9 Replies to “DFER, Etc., Etc., Etc.: Get Bold or We’ll Get Dusted (Again)”

  1. Wow, so much to think about! If your minimum was also the maximum, I be celebrating your post. But its a nonstarter as long as test-driven accountability is bringing the worst out in everyone and putting a premium on petty and punitive actions and CYA.

    You’ve reminded me of The Turnaround Challenge, which I saw as brilliant and which Duncan proclaimed as his Bible. But now his SIG and turnaround process are the antithesis of the original. In my experience, which is limited but which I bet is representative of too many places, Turnaround and Transformation School leaders have hurriedly adopted a playbook that they know is doomed to fail. so, they’ve done the rational thing and surrounded themselves with “yes men.” When you don’t believe you have any option of investing your millions in a rational way, the new metric becomes “exiting” teachers. When the Transformation School next to mine drove out 85% of teachers, the first to go were the awful ones and the best.

    The bottom line is getting rid of Baby Boomers so you can socilaize 23 year olds without them being exposed to dissent. Worse, the new principal at my old school, the bottom in the state, was hired July 5 to start a Transformation year on July 18, and still nobody knows her because she’s in meetings all the time. She has had zero input from teachers with institutional memory.

    The rest of your diagnosis would make since if education was a field where for several previous generations they had been funded at double the rate and you plan to triple it. But you can’t just wish that decades of disrespect and underfunding never occurred. As recently as twenty years ago, my 90% low income district had a per student budget of $3,000. And NCLB just worsened the fearfulness and culture of compliance. Education leaders are people who get summoned to one powerful person after another. they don’t question why. they do what they are told. And they are told things that are mutually exclusive by the full range of power people.

    If you want to empower educators, you must find a way to turn standardized tests into diagnositic tools. If you can’t do that, its game over for data-driven accountability. You guys are driving the best as well as the worst from the classroom, and you are creating a climate where a self-respecting person is miserable. If you want to attract talent to teaching without restoring our autonomy, you want something that never has been and never will be. Yes, there must be checks on our autonomy, just like their are checks on managements’ autonomy. But you can’t deny that management is management, and power corrupts. You guys need to reread Catch 22.

    Yes, we need to remove old checks and balances as we replace them with new ones. To say you are going to restrict teachers’ autonomy today and end our oldfashioned protections today, and institute new ones tomorrow is like saying you’ll cut off patients’ medicine and oxygen supply today, and restore it when the medical system figures that out.

  2. In response to Charles Barone’s comment: We’re big fans of “Ticket to Teach,” and of DFER’s efforts in general to press for better policies. But what we’re proposing adds on to “Ticket to Teach” and the coalition’s ESEA recommendations in two critical ways:

    (1) We’re calling for specific policies that will fundamentally change the political will at the district level to make the kind of changes we all think are necessary. Another large competitive federal grant program would help. But it would leave in place the underlying system, in which districts can bump along in mediocrity or even failure without really having to change. We simply must alter that in some dramatic, sustained way, as we propose in our post. We’re open to other ideas, but they surely must be as bold or bolder to get the job done.

    (2) Our nation can’t recruit, prepare, and retain our way to giving every child an excellent teacher. We’ll never have 3.2 million great teachers. Instead, we need to do what other professions have done: redesign roles and use technology to leverage the inevitably limited number of excellent teachers to reach vastly more students with top-teachers’ high standards and methods. We need policies to accelerate a move away from the one-teacher-one-classroom model, which guarantees that most students won’t have excellent teachers.

    To see how we can reach nearly every child every year with excellent teachers and how that allows paying excellent teachers more, within budget, read the reports linked in our original post.

  3. These are interesting ideas. I have some questions.

    Are there any “behavioral competencies” that have been linked to high growth in peer-reviewed research?

    Why offer large financial incentives for districts, schools, and teachers when they produce high-growth learning? While it sounds attractive, it seems to me that the studies of individual teacher bonuses and school bonuses do not support the idea that they CAUSE better results. Are there ones that do?

    In measuring “reach,” how would you account for the quality and quantity of the interaction?

  4. Bravo to John Thompson.

    I would also second Hassel’s advocacy of involving more adults in the delivery of education. There are quite soon going to be millions of retiring boomers with wisdom and a need to feel useful for another twenty years. I would love to have a well-trained 60 or 70-something in my classroom every day.

    Think about it.

  5. Limit who can teach to top high school graduates, with further screening for behavioral competencies of excellent teachers
    From which high schools, the drop out factories?

  6. Doesn’t make sense. Part of what makes a teacher good is having contact, actually being there. To me, when you say “swap portions of their time with digital instruction so they can teach more classes”, that sounds like taking that teacher away from that all-important contact and destroying any ability to actually be there. There used to be a concept called “with it-ness”…

    Also, you’re increasing the odds that a successful teacher will burn out. The reward for being a good teacher is a much heavier workload…

  7. I have a suggestion for the problem of tenured but less effective teachers. After evaluating the the success of all the students in a classroom, assign a successful teacher to supervise a less successful one. The successful teacher would determine the lessen plans and see to their application. This successful teacher may not be tenured yet, be younger, and be paid less. The supervised, tenured, teacher may resent this loss of authority and quit teaching.

    My daughter, a practicing chiropractor, considered becoming a teacher. She started as substitute teacher but could not afford the year of unpaid student teaching. Why not combined substitute teaching with student teaching?

  8. Davis wrote: “My daughter, a practicing chiropractor, considered becoming a teacher. She started as substitute teacher but could not afford the year of unpaid student teaching. Why not combined substitute teaching with student teaching?”

    I like your idea of combining substitute teaching with student teaching. I too found that credentialling systems that force adults to teach UNPAID for a year in order to get a credential to be paid to teach is an unfair and unnecessary burden. Honestly, I learned just as much (more, actually) in my time as a long-term subsitute than I did as a “student teacher”. Luckily I had the funds to survive on for a year without pay (after my four years of college and graduate work), but many adults don’t — especially those who are transitioning into teaching from a different career and may be in their 30’s or 40’s or beyond.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.