Yo Teach…! Or how to avoid teaching like Jason

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 25 2012

Future of Education School?

Just read a very interesting article about a new educational grad school called Relay School of Education that was started by many founders of the most successful charter schools (KIPP, Uncommon). It offers a two year masters degree program meant to help teachers succeed in their classrooms that very year. Interestingly, success in the program (and even honors) is tied to their tracking data in math and reading growth (at least for elementary teachers), and lessons are meant to be useful the next day in the classroom, and center around the practical techniques I would imagine most TFA corps members wish from their certification programs (Teach Like a Champion, Aligning assessments to common core standards, building investment, etc.). While the article was published in EducationNext–a magazine that will never miss an opportunity to glorify charter school leaders–I am excited by the idea that we may be close to formulating a certification program that is  actually aligned to most of what we learn at institute (I’m a sucker for the TAL Rubric and TAL Impact Model) and backed not by 1970′s articles in education journals but by what is working in low-income charter schools right now. I believe there is great potential for such a program: imagine if TFA paired with this university instead of most of the other certification programs: I think the benefits could be enormous. I also think such a program could provide alternate routes besides TFA to quickly enter education. Anyways, there are a lot of debates within TfA between career teachers v 2-5 year teachers, a month of training v a year of training, the cost benefit analysis of injecting new teachers quickly v building up educational grad programs. While this could be a way of reconciling these competing visions for American education, I eagerly await those with a more critical eye to help me see some of the flaws in this model.

13 Responses

  1. Tee

    I’m a bit confused as to why this type of master’s would be any better than an actual university’s master’s program. Teach Like a Champion is based on a teacher’s experiences of what works. It is not based on research about what works and what doesn’t. Is that really what we want in graduate programs – methods based on anecdotes rather than research?

    Besides, I can’t believe I even have to say this, but there are many possible reasons KIPP and Uncommon Schools are sometimes more successful. You can’t compare results when the populations of these schools tends to differ so greatly from the populations of regular schools (fewer special ed students, higher attrition, etc, in most of these charter schools).

  2. yoteach

    The “research” you mention comes from extrapolations and complicated statistical analysis of experiments. It is propagated by PhD’s who want to get published. Teach Like a Champion is based on a rigorous qualitative analysis of how a successful institution and the successful teachers that make it up account for their success. Sure, its not the product of a multivariable statistical analysis, but its not anecdotal either. Every day their methods are put to test from teachers who read, try out, and recommend their book and in the schools who now swear by them, while research published by grad schools may or may not be replicated in any significant way. While to some degree the jury is still out, I (and I think a significant portion of young teachers would agree) would take a program run by proven effective educational leaders over one run by professors whose thinking of education is largely abstracted.

    An easy way to test this hypothesis would be to look at end of the year surveys of CM’s. How effective did they think institute was compared to the masters or certification program they were in. My region is not a perfect sample, but I don’t think a single person would replace a day of institute with a day of their masters or certification program if they had the chance.

    • Tee

      How do you know about which “research” I am referring? Are you honestly trying to tell me that all educational research is useless?

      I’m not trying to say that all master’s or certification programs are good, but I don’t think the solution is to replace bad programs with other bad programs.

      I’m also not suggesting that everything in TLAC is bad, but I do have a problem with quite a few of the techniques. For example, the “pepper” technique is a surefire way to ensure that students who have processing disorders feel unsuccessful and anxious in the classroom. “Board = Paper” ignores research that people learn better if they can put things in their own words and make their own connections.

      Once again, I’m not saying that all graduate programs are perfect, nor am I saying that all research is worthwhile, but I don’t think that anecdotal evidence is the way to go, either.

  3. yoteach

    Sure, TLAC is imperfect. Uncommon Schools and KIPP are imperfect. Grad schools are imperfect. BUt what I think the former does well and what the latter hasn’t quite grasped is a way to connect research to implementation and then gauge how effectively its working. Most grad schools are so bad at doing this, whether it be with specific practices or their students as a whole, that government is thinking of coming in and coming up with their own way of rating the effectiveness of teachers after they leave. Say what you will about TFA and KIPP/Uncommon, but if there is oen thing they are good at its adjusting to their own data about what works. Education is a particularly perilous field to conduct meaningful and relevant research in, and I’m as clueless about anyone else as to what works. What I do know is the only way to reach useful conclusions is to institutionalize meaningful tracking of the students within the program. So even if your right and these leaders don’t know as much as other Ed programs, at least they will inevitably see their own shortcomings since they track their data and/or force other grad schools to be similarly empirical and pragmatic in their programs.

    • Tee

      So you’re getting your theory that most grad schools are bad and not empirical from………where?

      It’s also a little bit difficult for me to take you seriously when you have shown such a poor grasp of English grammar in your posts and comments. Please learn the difference between “your” and “you’re,” and please learn when to use apostrophes.

  4. yoteach

    Beyond my own anecdotal experiences and those from teachers at my school and corps members I’ve spoken with across the country, I have read very few articles or books on education that don’t already have established the overall ineffectiveness of our grad programs, let alone argue that they don’t need to be transformed. You could also look at the popularity and selectivity of education grad schools relative to other disciplines, their contribution to our current understanding of best practices, or the research most education journals consist of. Either way, I have seen no compelling evidence that our grad schools are not part of the problems facing our schools.

    Regarding my grammar: I apologize if my misuse of its and it’s and your and you’re offends you. Honestly, I respond to comments that I believe are worth responding to because I appreciate the challenges and think people who comment deserve a response. I post here and not on some random blog because the quality of challenges is much greater here. That being said, I admit that I reply to comments stream of consciousness and then click submit, mainly because I don’t have the time, and the benefit of fixing those silly mistakes do not outweigh the two minutes I lose each time.

    Ironically, by commenting now three times you seem to be the only person taking this blog post (mind you a quick share of an article I found interesting and wanted intelligent feedback on) seriously. I accept your implicit compliment that the merit of my ideas allured you in spite of my reckless grammar.

    • Tee

      Ok, I can’t even follow the convoluted run-on sentence at the beginning of your comment. “That don’t already have established the overall ineffectiveness”? Really?

      That aside, I think it’s clear that it was not the merit of your ideas that attracted my posts. What attracted me was how strongly I disagree with the idea that charter schools and books based on the experiences of some charter teachers should become the basis for teacher preparation programs.

  5. After I was done with TFA a went to a state school for postbac ed training and a master’s. It was a pretty mainstream program, and we spent a ton of time on recent research, observing and working in various k-12 schools, etc. What I learned there has been invaluable in helping my students succeed. Of course, part of the reason I got as much out of it as I did was that I already had my two years of TFA experience, so it was initially easier to apply the concepts and conceptualize the data for me than it probably was for people who went straight into the postbac program without teaching experience, but they did a good job of getting us into classrooms early and often so that gap closed quickly enough.

    The casual dismissal of “traditional” programs here is troubling to me. It is true that in various regions TFA has partners with some really terrible alt cert and master’s programs. That doesn’t mean that grad schools of ed are generally terrible.

  6. yoteach

    I totally agree that there are many fantastic grad programs, especially for people who have taught for a couple years and are looking greater depth or specialized learning. I hope to attend such a grad school in a few years.

    Regarding the potential of such a program, I am strictly talking about initial teacher preparation and the schools TFA partners with, as well as other streamlined routes for young people to enter the teaching profession with adequate training.

  7. Back when I was blogging at the beginning of the school, I made no secret of my various problems with my initial teacher prep grad school program: lack of practical training on classroom management, lesson planning, content specific teaching strategies and the list goes on. If it weren’t for a teaching fellowship I did last year, my kids would have been cheated during my first year teaching.

    Still, two of my favorite courses were low-key courses about research methods and social foundations. Whenever teaching-related info comes my way, I’m able to take a critical eye to it, which is extremely valuable in deciding what apply for my kids. As for the social foundations course, it was nice to have a weekly (neutral) discussion on the ideas and foundations upon which our public education system has been built. Both courses did not require much of my time during the year beyond reading short articles and joining in a forum (on my own time) for discussion on the week’s topic.

    I don’t want to reject Relay’s model on its face; it’s based on a fantastic concept that many postgrad education majors can benefit from: practical, applicable knowledge. Yet, I think taking apart and analyzing the old and learning how to be critical of ALL research needs to be mixed it. A mixing of some of the medicine in the ice cream, eh?

  8. Cal

    “Teach Like a Champion is based on a rigorous qualitative analysis of how a successful institution and the successful teachers that make it up account for their success. Sure, its not the product of a multivariable statistical analysis, but its not anecdotal either.”

    Yeah, it is. You might want to look up the definition.

    I went to a top-ranked ed school, and trust me, they do a better job than TFA–which is saying not a thing, of course, because TFA training is manifestly useless. I really don’t know why the organization allows these blogs, because if they had any idea how bad you all make the organization look, they’d stop.

    Anyway, any top-league ed school makes TFA look like a diploma mill. And believe me, I’m not fan of ed schools.

    • yoteach

      You do quite a good job disparaging everything eh? (institute, “top ranked ed schools”) Sixth grade thinking calls for sixth grade proverbs: He who can’t dance says the drum is off-beat.

      And good idea sharing you went to a top-ranked ed school. It made you seem super elite, not at all like a prick, and definitely didn’t undercut the very point you were trying to make.

  9. Cal

    Actually, I’m relatively well-known as Cal (relative being the operative word) and if you google Cal and “ed school” and the name of a top-ranked ed school, my story will come up. And you would then understand that I am not a blanket defender of ed schools.

    I am saying that ed school is largely a joke, a pay to play endeavor. So is TFA. So is any teaching credential program. But TFA’s education and preparation is absolute crap.

  10. I have some real problems with the philosophical underpinnings of charter school models like KIPP. Nor am I particularly convinced of the success of their model. So I find it very problematic that the adherents of radical education models are teaching those models – and just those models – to early-career teachers. Personally, I think those teachers need a range of options and some real training in cultural competency.

    A far more promising teacher education program would involve residencies, I think. These are both expensive and long-term endeavors, though.

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