Dear Dr. Glass

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.

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12 Responses to Dear Dr. Glass

  1. Ed Klamfoth says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your comments, Jerrid, particularly as they relate to the need for teachers to have a better understanding of pedagogy. Like you, I support content knowledge, but cannot support the calling for more of it if it comes at the expense of time dedicated on how best to deliver it. Also like you, I have expressed these concerns. I might agree and suggest that more content be part of an elementary teacher’s undergraduate work, but it’s been my personal experience as a secondary teacher, principal, and now superintendent, that content knowledge has rarely, if ever, been the source of poor teaching at the high school level. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

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  2. I also agree with your comments, mostly being because we have had similar educational backgrounds and mentors. However, it will be interesting to see what will happen if science education switches towards the application of science and not the regurgitation of it. If this happens, content expertise, in the sense of having done science (design experiments, perform experiments, gather data, analyze data, interpret data, and pose the next question) may be very useful. Not many undergraduate programs make students actually do “research” or real science. However, this may not ever happen if there are end of course examinations.
    Love your blog.

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  3. Shane P. Schulte says:

    Question: Do advanced classes, content or pedagogy, lead to greater student learning? Is the mentoring proposal a more effective way to get teachers real experience, and therefore better learning? Does taking great teachers out of the classroom to mentor, rather than teach, lead to better results? Considering children are unique, and bring with them several external distractions into the classroom, do these measure reflect the reality of what it takes to teach kids in today’s society?

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    • jerridkruse says:

      It’s an interesting question. However, the mentor is a very unknown variable. What if the mentor/master teacher is a very traditional teacher (who’s been promoted to the mentor level by a principal who is also very traditional). Now that new teacher is going to be told they must teach certain ways despite research demonstrating they are not effective. Now this same variability happens in preservice programs – so I am ok with the blueprint’s move toward increased tracking of performance.

      My argument: if preservice programs are doing their job as they should, students are going to be well prepared to teach in the realities of today’s classrooms. Can this preparation be coupled with an effective mentor? Hell yes! Has it been in the past? Sometimes.

      However, teacher teachers to teach is a different set of content knowledge that mentor teachers may or may not have developed. My grad work was geared toward helping me be a better teacher of teachers. Mentors will not have had the opportunity for such work (in many instances). So, if mentors are charged with creating the teachers kids need, they may be ill-equipped. Schools of education should be better equipped – although as with anything, there is variability.

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    • “Do advanced classes, content or pedagogy, lead to greater student learning?” Yes, but only if they are implemented correctly. Therefore mentoring will help so new/poor teachers can see the implementation of the above. This can be done by taking the good teachers out of the classroom and observing and critiquing the new/poor teachers. Or, it can be done by removing the new/poor teacher from the classroom and observing the good teacher in action and then reflecting on what they saw.

      “Considering children are unique, and bring with them several external distractions into the classroom, do these measure reflect the reality of what it takes to teach kids in today’s society?” There have always been distractions to learning and there will always be distractions to learning. Understanding how to deal with them is part of good pedagogy and good teaching. You have to at least try to get them to overcome the distraction. However, this may not be possible in all cases.

      We will still need to define “results.”

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      • Shane P. Schulte says:

        Thank you. As a parent, it helps me form an opinion. Excited for the conversation and looking forward to a meaningful implementation.

        What about recommended tiered pay scale and stricter certification requirements? Will this help attact talent into the profession?

        And thanks for your dedication to our kids.

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        • jerridkruse says:

          The pay scale is intriguing, but I doubt it will attract more talent. I don’t think our society’s views of teachers is due to their pay. I think there are many other factors that contribute to the views that keep some people from pursuing teaching.

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  4. Dr. James Sutton says:

    Of course the research is inconclusive. A secondary teacher rarely teaches more than four courses in his undergrasuate major, and none in his graduate work. Content that’s never taught can’t be measured.

    Secondary teachers take 14% of their undergraduate course work in teaching; elementary take 41% in teaching. There’s no broad criticism of instruction at the elementary level. Conclusion: Secondary teachers don’t know enough about teaching. They can’t apply advanced subject matter, but can apply more knowledge of curriculum or the art of teaching.

    An undergraduate major in a subject matter may not be the best preparation for secondary school teaching. A general education major across broad areas in humanities, science or social science furthers teaching across secondary school curriculum more than the Liberal Arts model of preparation. If you were a principal, who would you prefer to hire–a teacher who was licensed to teach in three education minor subjects or one licensed for one major subject?

    There’s danger in denigrating the masters degrees for teachers. Doing so undermines the American’s traditional belief that all education is good and an end in itself, and that undermines the basis of education at all levels. But the principle still pertains: A masters degree for teachers is relevant for instructional and salary purposes only if it is directly related to teaching.

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    • jerridkruse says:

      James, I obviously agree with much of what you have said & appreciate the nice way you’ve said it. I particularly like the note about valuing education for eduction’s sake. Today’s rhetoric is dominated by utilitarianism. Economics is not the point of a life in my opinion.

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  5. James tawsik ranglung says:

    Gud work

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