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The Roundtable: 'Grownups in Schools Can Do a Better Job'

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EW: It is certainly true that national standards and assessments won't be effective unless they are adopted by states and implemented by schools. And they won't be applied in the classroom unless teachers accept them and understand how to put them into practice.

That means we've got to provide opportunities for professional development along with the time and financial resources needed for teachers to take advantage of them.

That also means we must reshape teacher education programs so that they are aligned with new standards, assessments, pedagogies, technology, and restructured schools.

MS. FINE: We can't just up the standards without paying attention to the teachers and professional development. It's an absurdity to imagine that.

MS. GRAHAM: I am still concerned about the grownups in schools and how they can do a better job, because I really believe that the deep problem is with the grownups in the schools.

Remember that experiment where Toyota, I think it was, took these "inadequate'' General Motors workers and retrained them? All of a sudden, these workers who were no good at all for General Motors were doing a good job.

If we believe that all children can learn, we also ought to believe that all teachers can learn. And we ought to be figuring out how to link up a system of retraining existing teachers and preparing new teachers in a better way.

This is where I would hold the colleges and universities responsible. The leverage to do that is with the states, who fund public higher-education institutions, which have no standards in their schools of education worth mentioning.

I would let the market system work in deciding which universities get the contracts for the retraining and professional development. That would force colleges and universities to develop programs that would be effective for experienced teachers and administrators, to help them meet the new standards that are being expected of them.

We can also consider what needs to be done about those naughty prestigious private institutions that drop their schools of education and ignore their responsibilities for training teachers.

Governor Romer, I would guess that a very high fraction of teachers in Colorado have graduated from a public institution in Colorado, and that the leverage point for you may be in manipulating the funds to the higher-education system in ways that stimulate the higher-education system to put more of its energies into working both with beginning teachers and with experienced teachers and administrators.

GOVERNOR ROMER: That's dead right. We don't have our teaching colleges really wired into this, and they get an awful lot of largess out of the government.

If you had an orchestrated strategy, you could bring a lot of motivation to change in higher education.

Of course, everybody's going to say, "Wait a minute, you're getting heavy-handed.'' We'd be accused of micromanaging. But we should use the leverage we have at the state level to motivate these institutions. When you give out money, you motivate one way or the other.

We just need to get smarter about how we do it.

MR. HORNBECK: There is a growing belief that there should be widely accepted standards for what entry-level and non-exceptional teachers need to know and be able to do. Would you make it mandatory for a state's schools of education to incorporate them in their programs?

MS. GRAHAM: By non-exceptional, you mean ...?

MR. HORNBECK: They would not aspire to be board certified. It seems to me that somebody ought to be going about the business of identifying what those teachers need to know and be able to do, and developing assessments that will measure that. Those standards and assessments need to be parallel to the standards and assessments that are getting developed for students by the subject-matter groups and for advanced teachers by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

MS. GRAHAM: I would be enthusiastic about having those kinds of activities preceding the imposition of high-stakes consequences for students. I think a student who has never been exposed to a teacher who is competent is paying a very high price for the teacher's incompetence.

We really need to take a hard look at what's going on with teachers. There are many wonderful, gifted teachers in America, but there are also many who are not at this moment performing as wonderful, gifted teachers.

What we need to figure out is a system that could improve the performance of the many teachers whose performance could be improved.

MR. HORNBECK: If the efforts to determine what teachers should know and be able to do came to fruition, wouldn't one then get rid of all of the certification requirements that currently exist that have anything to do with accumulating courses and credits? And wouldn't that fundamentally alter the relationship between higher education and elementary and secondary schools?

MS. GRAHAM: It would be a dramatic change for colleges and universities if they could not rely on state certification requirements as a justification for their education programs, both for teachers and for administrators.

Public education institutions get their money on a head-count basis, and departments of education exist so that the history department can have a few good students, and the place can keep afloat financially by putting its weak students in education and physical education. And that's not good.

GOVERNOR ROMER: I haven't gotten around to putting the leverage on higher education about standards, but I can tell you I ought to. Somebody ought to stuff that in my face and say: "Romer, if you really believe in improving education, why don't you go for where the money is, or where the real power is?'' And then help me identify those points.

I'm afraid we're not getting our hands on the levers of power.

MS. HAYCOCK: We need a carefully coordinated, very aggressive strategy to deal with the problem, because most of higher education is completely asleep.

The deeper we get into K-12 reform, the clearer it becomes that we are not going to be able to bring about substantial change in K-12 without substantially reforming higher education. Not just teacher education, but the way kids are admitted and what happens in undergraduate education.

MR. MILLS: In Vermont there is tremendous pressure on schools for performance.

To get relicensed, teachers have to convince a board of their peers that they have grown as professionals. So in the midst of all this pressure, they are putting together their own individual professional-development plans that get approved by this relicensing board of their peers.

That creates a very different kind of market. Instead of each individual coming to the college, as I did when I was a teacher, and being told by the college what I had to do, higher education is now being told what it is expected to provide. The whole region of the state and the whole profession in the state constitutes an organized market that says, "This is what we want in higher education. Either you deliver it, or private providers will spring up and deliver it.''

And there has been a dramatic change in where people go for their continuing professional education.

MS. HAYCOCK: If you only move to an outcome system for teacher certification, you are still missing probably three-quarters of the problem that higher education causes for K-12 reform.

What we really need to think about is if this logic we have articulated for K through 12--i.e., that we need clearer goals in order to improve the system--applies to higher education, too.

And we ought to be thinking about outcome standards at least in some core things that all B.A. recipients ought to be able to do. And we need a National Assessment of Educational Progress test for college graduates to illustrate to people why this is important.

MR. PETERKIN: We have given little shrift to how we move the standards that we all covet to teaching and learning in classrooms. Four or five years after the math standards were developed, few people have helped teachers at the local level really make the transition from a standard to a practice.

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