Thursday, December 7, 2017

Can Continuing Ed Ed Suck Less?

Ed Week is addressing the question of teacher recertification in a big slab of articles this week (produced with "support from" the Joyce Foundation), each of which addresses a piece of the bigger picture. If you're intrigued, here's the thumbnail sketch of each, with an eyeball rating between one and four. Four eyeballs means you should check this one out, and one eyeball means never mind. Let's go:

Is Teacher Recertification Broken?

Setphen Sawchuk leads off with the second-to-biggest question. The biggest question is "Was teacher recertification ever not broken?" Sawchuck starts off with one incisively exact statement:

Every five years, teachers across the United States engage in a ritual of sorts, submitting paperwork to prove they’ve sat through a specified number of hours of coursework and paying a fee to renew their licenses. 

Then he follows it with a less incisive statement:

It’s hard to think of something that has more influence over teachers:

Well.... I get his point. Recertification provides a great deal of leverage. But the fact that the content of the recertification process doesn't really influence teachers at all is part and parcel of the whole "broken" thing. And he goes on to lay that out as an intro to the series-- nobody really knows what is going on in the world of recertification, but everyone's pretty sure that whatever it is, it's not helping much at all.

Four eyeballs.

Teacher Professional Development: Many Choices, Few Quality Checks

Sawchuk takes a look at the mini-industry that has popped up to help teachers get their hours in. In the process, he drops a factoid that helps explain why recertification remains so mysterious-- the most recent USED data is from 2011-2012.

He gets that choices are usually made based on convenience and time constraints. Which means lots of teachers get as many hours as possible from their own district's professional development (in states like PA, most PD must by law be applicable to recert purposes). But there are also a variety of  vendors out there, and nobody is really checking to see whether they're any good or not. And many of those vendors offer courses based on what they want to offer, not what teachers want to take.

All of which seems about right. We make a decision on a matrix of time, convenience, and "most likely to not be a total waste of my time."

Three eyeballs.

Even National Board Teachers Don't Get a Pass on License Renewal

Madeline Will lays out what most of us know-- getting national board certified is a hell of a lot more work than sitting through the average PD or recert course, and yet somehow, it doesn't count toward the recert process. This is dumb. Will just puts some specifics behind it that help underline how dumb it is.

Three eyeballs.

Wisconsin Killed License Renewal. So Why Are Teachers Upset.

Wisconsin's recert process was clunky and dumb, so they killed it. And teachers were upset, because they were afraid the lack of such a process makes teaching look less professional.  That's it. unless you want names and specifics, you don't have to read the article now.

Two eyeballs.

It's Not How Long You Spend in PD, It's How Much You Grow

Liana Loewus takes us to Georgia, where a new approach to recert is ditching "sit'n'git"  PD with a different system based on setting a goal for personal growth and meeting it.

In Georgia, this involves Professional Learning Communities, the DuFour pioneered model that all the cool kids are using these days. It's an interesting approach, particularly notable because the state appears to be taking a "hands-off approach" and trusting principals to tend to their own house. "We can’t ask educators within your school to trust each other if we’re not also going to trust you,” said David Hill, head of special projects for the state standards board.

What an extraordinary approach! Teachers work together to help each other get better, and the state takes their principal's word for it that Good Things are happening. While the system would seem to depend upon having a principal who's not a jackass, and it gets into all the problems of peer reviews, it's still an intriguing approach.

Four eyeballs.

Inching Toward Relicensure, One "Microcredential" at a Time

Sawchuk interviews Paul Fleming from Tennessee, who explains how their micro-credential system works. I'll admit-- when I saw "micro-credential" I envisioned a bunch of teachers strapped to computers taking stupid tests at the end of slide-show presentations about the kind of "competencies" that can be crammed into power-point slides. Yuck.

Tennessee seems to be up to something different, with elements of peer review and using actual evidence from the classroom instead of clicking a mouse at a screen. The system is new and there seem to be some questions yet to be answered, and the interview is brief.

Three eyeballs.

Making a Case for "Timely, Purposeful, Progressive" PD

Brian Curtin wants us to think about how much the world has changed since we started teaching, so that the tide of change will help us feel that it's "imperative" that PD be newer and better. And he's going to tell us that teacher quality is the single biggest factor in student achievement (and he's not going to bother to include the qualifier that this is the biggest "in school" factor). Also, Google tools. And timeliness. And so much corporate style jargon that it's hard to believe that this guy is an actual English teacher (but he is). But continuous education should be continuous, and happen when we can immediately apply what we learn, because we forget things that happen in the summer. And student outcomes.

One eyeball. Maybe even half an eyeball, but that would be gross.

Cutting a New Path on License Renewal for Teachers

Kim Walters-Parker, like Curtin, seems to have many, many things to say, and in trying to say all of them, ends up not saying much. It should be harder to become a teacher. Maintaining a law license is very hard; maintaining a teacher's certificate is not. Change should be approached with a long view. And when she gets to the "what should recert look like question," she answers "Frankly, I don't know."

One eyeball.

 How Licensing Rules Kept One Teacher of the Year Out of Public Schools

Megan Allen is that teacher, and her Florida certificate did not transfer easily to Massachusetts.

It's a real problem, though I'm not sure the problem is so much reciprocity as it is that some states would give a teaching certificate to an upright badger with a piece of chalk strapped to its paw. And as states move to issue teaching certificates to anyone with any degree, or allow charters to "certify" their own "teachers," reciprocity becomes a bigger challenge. How do you maintain high standards in your own state when North Pennsyltucky has lowered standards to the basement?

Improving reciprocity would, as Allen hints, be a natural solution to recruiting issues. Allen herself ended up pushed out of the classroom by her intra-state move, and that is no small matter. But at the same time, as I consider the state of education in Massachusetts and Florida, I have to conclude that Massachusetts understands some things about teachers and public schools that Florida does not, which in turn would lead me to doubt whether a Florida certificate was good enough to gain automatic entrance to classrooms in other states.

Four eyeballs.

That's the package. An interesting collection about an under-discussed topic for which there are few simple answers. Teachers who are any good in the classroom grow constantly; it would be better, perhaps, for states to ask how they could find out about that growth rather than demanding that teachers be locked into some easy-to-report-by-paperwork method of making the state happy.


  1. "Maintaining a law license is very hard"

    Um, actually, it's not. Maintaining a cosmetology license is harder. Here in Illinois, anyway, all attorneys have to do to maintain their license is take 30 credits (including 6 ethics credits) over a two year period, as "proven" by self report. Our attorneys do it mostly online through Thomson Reuters/Westlaw. Most do it in their offices with the volume turned down to nearly off while they do their other work. As long as they're paying enough attention to hit a key every 15 minutes, they're all good. There is no end of program quiz or anything else to prove they actually "took" the course other than that they were logged in for the duration of the program.

  2. Like many states in Michigan we have to re-certify every 5 years. This involves filling out forms, jumping through some hoops and paying the teacher tax of $165. The original intent is that teachers must stay current in content and practice, but the hoop jumping is anything but that. I have wondered what would happen if they dropped the other requirements and just said that teachers could have free tuition to classes at any state university. I think that several teachers would voluntarily take classes. I think that the number of advanced degrees would sky rocket. And of course, some people would not participate, but those people don't participate now.

  3. My last semester under the "old" system of recertification, I didn't even know this existed. I was only told by an older teacher as I frantically went around and counted up all the professional hours I needed (which came out to around 250. 150 more than I needed) and get it approved by the principal. I never really had to deal with this before. Maybe the school I worked in before did it for me.

    This year, I bit the bullet and registered for an online class, because it would give 36 hours. The subject sounded appealing "How to Engage and Motivate Students." But most of it is things I already know, so I am not really learning anything. I don't mind having to take continuing education, in order to grow. Just give me something that is useful.