Dr. Jason Glass spoke to the faculty at my university last week. I could tell from the discussion that Jason has learned a lot about education in Iowa over the last year. I respect that he has foregone some initial goals given the realities of the situation we are in. Furthermore, I feel less like he is pushing onward no matter the result & instead am mildly optimistic that he is putting forth some ideas to be tried & then refined. Only time will tell if my optimism is accurate.
Jason encouraged us to read the blueprint & let him know what he got right & what he got wrong. I think (hope) Jason & I have a mutual respect & that he wants honest & useful feedback. So, here goes nothing.
I like most of the document, but still maintain that the devil is in the details. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of details there. Which could be a very good thing as this leaves room for flexibility & reacting to data. I like the move toward what I call “reasonable accountability”. Teachers are evaluated by multiple measures & students are provided affordances to meet expectations in non-traditional ways as well as move on from remediation when ready. That is, the third grade retention is not simply a “do the whole year over” no matter what.
While there are many things I’m optimistic about there is a set of related issues glaringly unrepresented in the discussion of teacher quality*: pedagogical knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge & understanding how people learn. There are many references to holding new teachers to high levels of accountability regarding content knowledge, but essentially no mechanism for ensuring high levels of pedagogical knowledge or sufficient understanding of learning. There is mention of ensuring preservice teachers have high quality mentors & that they learn how to design effective lessons, but there is no plan to assess this. My own, as well as other’s, research makes very clear that what is assessed is what is valued. If we do not somehow assess teachers pedagogical knowledge & knowledge of learning I know this construct will fall by the wayside to make room for what is assessed: content.
This is related to something Jason & I disagree on. Whether increased content knowledge makes one a better teacher. Jason, from our discussion last week, supports content masters degrees over teaching masters degrees. I do not think this is prudent (but do agree many teaching masters degrees are simply devices to get paid more). While content knowledge is necessary, it is insufficient to becoming an effective teacher. Over the last 40 years researchers (who have published in peer-reviewed journals rather than a consulting firm report) have sought to make a connection between content & teaching efficacy. The best case that can be made is that the research is inconclusive. That is, some studies say content courses make better teachers (although most note content knowledge is not sufficient) while other studies find no correlation between content courses & teaching efficacy. An inconclusive result after 40 years? To me, this means there is likely not a strong correlation (certainly not one basing reform efforts on). If there were an important correlation, the overall research landscape would point in that direction after so much time.
More anecdotally, I am a content expert. I have the equivalent of a masters degree in chemistry. I can clearly recall why I entered teaching: because I was good at explaining things clearly. That is, I thought good teachers we good at explaining things in very basic ways. I no longer think that. Now, I believe a quality teacher is one who helps others construct meaning by providing rich experiences and encouraging carefully guided reflection (of course this is simplified). My point here is that my curriculum & instruction classes were instrumental in changing my view of teaching & learning! Had it not been for those courses, I would likely be a very traditional lecture-based teacher Yet, such courses are undervalued in the blueprint as I explained earlier.
As another anecdote, think back to your college content courses. How many of them were taught in a manner consistent with how people learn? My college professors all had PhDs in their field, yet believed that lecture & text were effective ways to teach. I cannot blame them. That was likely their experience & they did not have curriculum & instruction courses like I did.
Now, I do think teacher content knowledge is important & don’t want the previous three paragraphs to confuse my point. So, if I were to change one thing in the blueprint, I would ensure that we place significant importance on (which based on the blueprint’s design means to explicitly assess) teacher understanding of pedagogy & how people learn as well as their content understanding.
*I’ve provided a screen capture related to teacher quality from the blueprint for reference. Highlights are mine, but related to my point.