California Educator

November 2015

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Page 48 of 59

What was the most surprising thing you learned when researching and writing the book? I was surprised to find that certain reform ideas that are presented as innovative are actually not new. Merit pay based on student achievement gains is an idea that started in the early 20th century, re-emerged in the '60s, the '80s, and again today. The concept of "value-added" is also not new. Policymakers and the media rou- tinely criticize teachers, yet they also want to draw top college grad- uates to the profession. Why don't they see the disconnect? It 's been going on since the 19th cen- tury. There is a lack of data showing that graduates of elite colleges make better teachers, yet many policymakers think this is the answer. Fixing working conditions for teachers is the only way to change the system. Speaking of working conditions, you write quite a bit about the abun- dance of paperwork, especially with regard to teacher evaluation. Why do you think this is such a problem? When we overburden teachers and admin- istrators with paperwork, it takes focus away from improving instruction. When observers need to document 60 indicators in a single class period, they don't take it seriously. It's really mind-boggling. We need an evalua- tion system that is sustainable. Why does the public equate firing teachers with a more successful sys- tem of public education? Some very prominent people have made that argument. Yes, we should get rid of bad teachers and attract and retain good ones. But this is a super simplistic argu- ment. Improving the quality of teaching will come from a greater focus on collab- oration within the profession and teacher leadership. This will help us replicate excellence and best practices. We need to replace the conversation about firing teachers with one about skill building. What do you see as the proper role of standardized testing in education? Research generated from test scores can show trends among large groups of teachers and students. It can help identify problems in the system. But we have to be careful what policies we tie to the research. Campbell's Law* tells us that when we tie incentives to a measure, the measure becomes less valuable. When we focus too much on test scores, teachers are going to change the way they teach and test questions become the de facto curriculum. Harvard professor Daniel Koretz has shown in his research that tests have limits. It's a flawed argument to say that it's OK to teach to a high-quality test. One of the recommendations you make is to "keep teaching interest- ing." Can you explain this? I've interviewed hundreds of teachers. I'm so impressed and wowed by what teachers are doing on their own, especially in an environ- ment of scarcity. But for most of them, year 20 looks a lot like year 3 in terms of how they spend their day. We know that by year 7 or 8 they are ready for a challenge, yet in most cases teachers are unable to move forward or be recognized for their successes. Other countries allow good teachers to write curriculum, mentor and work on edu- cation policies. We haven't made it easier for teachers to move to leadership roles. If the excellent teacher doesn't have time to share knowledge with colleagues, it's difficult to replicate their best practices, and the system suffers for it. What would you say to a career educator who feels vilified in today's reform debates? I understand why you feel discouraged right now, but I've seen some changes in the reform debate even since I finished [the book] in 2013. For example, the Obama administration speaks far less about how teacher account- ability policies will fix poverty. Also, the idealization of the Teach for America model has receded. That has happened within Teach for America itself. These changes stack up. If we're becom- ing more realistic about the quick fixes that have been advocated in the past, there's an opportunity to make real changes. How do we end the teacher wars? One thing we must do is acknowledge the many, many factors that impact children's lives. The child poverty rate is higher than before the recession. It's unacceptable to say that doesn't matter. We need to look at schools, but also beyond schools. We need to look at the idea of integrating our communities and making sure disadvantaged schools aren't clustered. Our kids should be growing up around kids who are different than themselves. There's no one-size-fits-all solution in education. I think the whole conversation about career and college readiness is not realistic. There are some really good career and technical options for kids who may need more time to decide if they are going to continue their education. This is a forgot- ten group. It's incredibly important that we focus on providing them with a curriculum that serves them. Lisa Galley is editor of the New Jersey Edu- cation Association Review, where this story originally appeared (September 2015). *From social scientist Donald Campbell: "The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures." Campbell's Law is used to explain why high- stakes testing promotes cheating, teaching to the test, and other negative behaviors. "Fixing working conditions for teachers is the only way to change the system." 47 November 2015

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