Education Chat

A Conversation With Arthur E. Levine

Arthur E. Levine, current president of Teachers College, Columbia University, answered questions on a variety of topics, from educational leadership preparation to student achievement.

A Conversation With Arthur E. Levine
July 14, 2006

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s chat with Arthur Levine, the president of Teachers College, Columbia University. He’ll be addressing a variety of topics, from educational leadership preparation to the achievement gap. We already have a large number of questions to address, so let’s get the discussion started ...

Question from Melanie Tyner-Wilson:
How has the preservice requirements for principals impacted the outcomes for children with disabilites? and how can programs (leadership) be improved?

Arthur E. Levine:
The research on principal impact on children is weak. It indicates that quality principals enhance student achievement in general. I am unaware of research on children with disabilities in particular.

Comment from Madge Haven, Education Manager, American Statistical Association:
The genesis of educational problems addresses countless areas but never or rarely the issue of the people who send their chidren to school un- or under- prepared for what is reasonable to expect from students at each grade level. Success in fixing what is wrong in Education cannot happen without addressing and then fixing why the ‘home component’ is missing in action. As it stands now we have a negative feedback loop. (I am a recovering Science teacher.)

Question from Kelly Stokes, special education teacher, Gray New Gloucester High School:
What ideas do you recommend for students with disabilities who are not motivated by the current push for meeting the curriculum and academic standards?

Arthur E. Levine:
I am always impressed when I see students, both disabled and not, glued to a computer playing games with intensity and excitement. We can do the same thing in education. The goal is to promote student learning, not perpetuate the traditional classroom. We determine what works and use it.

Question from Kelly Farinelli, Future Teacher:
I am a thirty-six year old wife, mother of two and full-time college student. I have completed 61 of the 120 required credits with a 3.95 GPA. My family would like to relocate and I have been told numerous times that the southern states are in such a high demand for teachers that they are offering those with 60 or more credits a job with the agreement to sign on and finish their schooling (while teaching). I have searched and searched the web to find truth of this to no avail. Can you tell me if this is true?

Arthur E. Levine:
I am sorry, but I don’t know. Good luck. Perhaps one of the people participating in the conversation can help out.

Question from Kathy Nelson, English teacher, Arrowhead HS:
When the U.S. Department of Education asked students if they find school engaging or interesting, only 21% said yes. How can we combat this?

Arthur E. Levine:
We have all seen children successfully engaged in learning when they play computer games or surf the net. The historic model of school is I am afraid growing old and less useful. Let’s take the pedagogical techniques that seem to work in computers and other venues and apply them to teaching our children.

Question from Paul J. Smith, Ed.D., Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center, Little Rock School District:
Most of us realize that politics are very much a part of education. Please explain how politics enters the picture of solving the problems of low achieving students?

Arthur E. Levine:
Low achieving children are going to cost this nation a lot of money- in the cost of unemployment insurance, welfare, lost taxes, health, prisons and more. A recent study by the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College made this clear. We also will pay for those children by low civic participation and being less competitive in a global marketplace. We have a choice of paying for children when they are young and healthy or paying for them when they older and broken.

In short, show political leaders from red and blue states, it is in their interest to invest in those children. Make the argument dollars and cents.

Question from John Shacter, consultant and teacher, Kingston, TN:
Isn’t “education” a “service”? And if a “cometitive, private service” (which education is virtually NOT!) is to be evaluated and improved -- who ever heard of just asking the service providers how well they are doing and whether they need to be improved? Isn’t the answer too predictable, and isn’t that basically what is wrong with education and colleges of education? John Shacter,

Arthur E. Levine:
I have been impressed that for profit providers of education cannot demonstrate that their services increase student achievement either. They too have resorted to satisfaction surveys and anecdotes. I am not yet won over to your point of view.

I am a pragmatist. Show me any approach to student education that promotes student learning and I will support it enthusiastically. I am still waiting.

Question from Lucy Wakiaga, EDD student, Howard University:
How have institutions responded to your 2005 study “Educating School Leaders”? Have strides been made in some of the institutions you visited and in what ways?

Arthur E. Levine:
Diane Dean, a professor at Illinois State University, has been carrying out an evaluation of the impact of my report. It will soon be on the website I know the report has been downloaded over 50,000 times and has been the basis for evaluations of the programs in a number of education schools and states. But I can’t say more yet.

Question from George Guild, Director of Economic Education, Federal Reserv:
When you talk about “the changing role of schools” is this a conversation about reactionary response to eposodic studies or a proactive change based upon a clear vision of the needs of teachers, students,commuities, businesses and the nation for the twenty-first century?

Arthur E. Levine:
When I speak about the changing role of school I mean a number of different things. As an information society our focus has shifted from assuring common processes to assuring common outcomes. Learning is eclipsing teaching. This is revolutionary.

In an information society, our expectations for schools has changed as well. Low education jobs are moving abroad. Expanding jobs require more advanced skills and knowledge. There are no longer jobs for dropouts. States are demanding students receive the most advanced educations in history and all students be learners. Accountability is now driving education.

I also think our school system is an anachronism. I suspect it will fall under the pressure to provide an individualized education to dramatically increasing numbers of students labeled learning disable as well as a mass education to all others. The twin activities will break the bank. As brain research advances and we learn more and more about how children learn and technology permits the creation of software for each learning style, schools will become increasingly individual in the education they offer. Student will advance by mastery rather than age. The teacher will become diagnostician, prescriptor and assessor.

Question from Karen Glanert, Special Education Teacher Fanrsworth Middle School:
With the NCLB and IDEA special education children are to be at a proficant level in all areas. Some of these children just will not make proficient level due to their disabilities.How do we maintain a positive base for these parents and children?

Arthur E. Levine:
The education community has been slow in updating our schools to meet the needs of an information society, so government stepped in and imposed a solution in the form of NCLB and a host of state initiatives. The solution was one size fits all and it has not fit all that well in many respects. Special education is one such area. NCLB is coming up for reauthorization. It is time for educators to respond by offering thoughtful ideas that demonstrate what students with disabilities can be expected to learn. In too many school systems, special education has been warehousing. We cannot accept that situation. We need to present actionable alternatives to the warehouse and NCLB. The federal government has never lived up to its funding promises.

Question from Charlene Harris, Special Education Teacher, Buffalo Public Schools:
It seems that the major difference in leadership preparation programs is the focus. A future administration can choose a program that has a managerial approach or one that has a focus in developing change agents. Is one better than the other? Wouldn’t it make sense to develop programs that blend both schools of thought?

Arthur E. Levine:
Yes, absolutely. I have suggested a program that combines the management and leadership education you described and combines that with an education in how children learn, curriculum, pedagogy, professional development,standards and accountability,etc. We need education leaders who know how to change and manage a school.

Question from Charlene Harris, Special Education Teacher, Buffalo Public Schools:
The current inclusion model has one general education teacher and one special education teacher in a classroom. As inclusion becomes the standard in public education, do you see this trend of two teachers continuing or do you see teacher preparation programs changing?

Arthur E. Levine:
I see a revolution coming in teacher preparation because I think the job of teacher and our schools will change dramatically. As brain research advances and our capacity to create software that will meet each student’s learning style grows, schools will become increasingly individualized. That is, focusing on the individual student, emphasizing learning over teaching.The teacher in this environment will have to be a diagnostician, prescriptor, and assessor. We will see an end to education by age in favor of education by mastery for each student.

Question from Dottie O’Brien, Managing Director of Program for Teach For America:
Dear Mr. Levine,

I have recently enrolled in UCLA’s Principal Leadership Institute and a topic of debate which often surfaces is whether the amount of time spent as a classroom teacher determines the effectiveness of an administrator. Many of my peers believe that in order to be an effective administrator, particularly leading instrucion, one needs 5 - 10 years experience as a teacher. Although I can understand this arguement and see immense value in this experience, I do not believe that having less experience means one will be ineffective. What is your opinion on this topic? Are there other more important indicators from one’s teaching experience that determines effectiveness as a principal (such as consistently high levels of student achievement)?

Thank you for your time!

Best, Dottie O’Brien

Arthur E. Levine:
I have not seen research which confirms either point of view. My feeling has always been that people are more effective if they understand the work that goes on in the organizations they lead. I think principals are far better who have been teachers, but I have no idea how long they should be in the classroom. I like the idea of 5 years, but have no defensible reason for this opinion, except that student achievement rises with teachers having greater longevity in the classroom..

Question from Jessi Almstead, Aspiring Teacher:
What are your thoughts on the NYC Teaching Fellows program?

Arthur E. Levine:
I have serious questions. Attrition among Fellows is high, but more important I believe the children in our inner cities need the best possible teachers in the country because their needs are so great. I am very uncomfortable with them having marginally partially prepared teachers, who are likely to leave after a short time in the classroom. This ensures that children have a continuous array of insufficiently trained teachers year after year. I would be a bigger fan of the program if Fellows taught in Great Neck or Scarsdale, two of the most affluent communities in NYC. The students in these schools come better prepared and have far richer resources outside of school. They can better afford new and less well prepared teachers.

Question from Mary Poluse, High School Teacher, Geneva Schools:
Dr. Levine I have taught for 33 years, earned a MA in math in 6 years and Ph.D in curriculum & instruction in 10 years while teaching full-time. As I was juggling teaching, parenting, and some serious course work, SOME of my colleagues were taking on-line courses, correspondence degrees, some having their spouses actually do the required papers, all to earn the credits to go up the pay scale and move on to administration. It seems that the programs for administration may have become low-quality because the universities are providing a product in high demand. Even if participants are serious about their degree and role as a leader, they may not be able to financially do the program unless they also work full-time. This means less time for family, extr-curricular responsibilities, grading and planning. The programs are cash cows for the universities partially for these reasons--do you really see schools willing to eliminate them?

Arthur E. Levine:
No, the states have a responsibility to stop the race to the bottom among educational administration programs by closing the bad ones.

Comment from Susan Villani, Senior Program/ Research Associate, Learning Innovations at WestEd:
For Kelly,

Many states have alternative routes to certification, which is a way for people such as yourself to begin teaching while continuing to complete requirements for certification and/or a degree. I know that when I directed a program in NH for alternative certification route teachers and their mentors, there were participants from throughout the state. You might want to contact state departments of education and specifically ask about their alternative certification possibilities.

Question from Jade Floyd, Communications Manager, American Asso. of Colleges for Teacher Education:
There are many new players in the teacher education arena these days. What elements of professional, collegiate-based teacher preparation are most essential to developing highly qualified teachers?

Arthur E. Levine:
We don’t know for sure. By the way, we don’t have any reason to believe that the cornucopia of new noncollegiate programs are any good. The only measure that matters in evaluating a teacher education program on or off-campus is student achievement. We don’t know the impact of teacher education on student achievement in any type of program, although research is underway. Teacher education is far from unique in this respect. We do not know the impact of medical school on patient health or law school on attorney efficacy. I will release a report on the condition of university teacher education in mid-September which offers a description of what seems to work and why in campus-based teacher education programs.

Question from Penny Engel, Assistant Director for Research & Policy, American Asso. of Colleges for Teacher Education:
Some institutionally-based teacher education programs are particularly well known and highly regarded for their extensive clinical experience components. From your research, can you briefly describe some of these particularly effective clinical models?

Arthur E. Levine:
Four year programs at Alverno College in Wisconsin and Emporia State in Kansas Five year programs at University of Virginia and Boston College Masters program at Stanford. I think the masters program at Teachers College is pretty good too, but that should be taken with a large grain of salt since I am the president.

Question from Penny Engel, Assistant Director for Research & Policy, American Asso. of Colleges for Teacher Education:
Has your research addressed the often-raised issue of some universities’ diversion of tuition dollars received by their teacher education programs to other university programs, leaving teacher preparation under-resourced? If so, what solutions to that problem are most effective?

Arthur E. Levine:
Don’t do it. The press ought to blow the whistle. State boards of education/higher education should hold hearings. Put pressure on university presidents to do the right thing.

Question from Lyn Bajaj, Instructional Coach, Mark Twain Elementary in Littleton Public Schools:
As an aspiring administrator currently enrolled in an administrative Masters Program, I agree with your stance on raising the bar for admission and graduation requirements, but question the reality of teachers being able to afford two years away from their full time work to earn the new MEA degree you suggest. Do you have suggestions for how to make it financially possible for motivated professionals who really want to learn the relevent information to do so?

Arthur E. Levine:
I don’t think the MEA needs to be full-time though fellowships that enabled educational administrators to take a full-time intership would be highly desirable.

Question from Vincent M. Dial, Assistant Principal, Science Hill High School, Johnson City ,Tennessee:
Dr Levine: Do you feel that we have arrived at that point of “critical mass” in public education,such that the voices of the Faith Based Community will be invited to the table of Public Education Reform. The purpose would be to establish a more complete dialogue that addresses the wholeness of student learning. Thank You!

Arthur E. Levine:
I am an educational agnostic. I don’t believe the name public education guarentees quality, nor do I believe that faith based education ensures quality. I would have anyone sit at the table who can demonstrate his/her school achieves excellence in student learning without teaching or promoting anti-democratic values or behaviors.

I suspect in the years ahead the distinction between public and private schools will blur. There is a Catholic school in my neighborhood in which a majority of the students are non-Catholic kids of color from the local area. In contrast, the public schools in Scarsdale New York charge over a million dollars to attend the public schools, since that is the cost of buying a home in the area. The question for me is which school is public and which is private?

Question from Michelle, elementary teacher, Virginia:
I have been teaching for almost 20 years. I love the children and teaching but am disheartened by the lack of respect teachers are shown by parents,low pay with no chance of advancement, and high insurance costs. My pay is reduced to such a low point after paying heallth insurance that my children can qualify for reduced lunch. I need to make a change-how do elementary education degrees transfer to a different career in the workplace? I do not want to go back to school to earn another Master’s degree, but do need to make a career change. Can you make a suggestion?

Arthur E. Levine:
I am so sorry to read your story. Tell me what you would like to do.

Question from Noel Lawson, teacher, Bronx Health Careers:
The school system is pushing solely academic subjects and we all know that not all the students will make it to college; many students don’t meet success because the education system is not preparing all students for the future - learning a skill to become useful citizens. Has the system failed the students when they graduate and they have no skills but run into problems with the police?

Arthur E. Levine:
I think the system has failed children in two ways. One is establishing separate and unequal school systems for low income and more affluent children. The former too often receive an education which assumes they will not succeed and offers a substandard education to ensure it. It is a pity that no major urban school system has been successfully turned around in a 20 year school reform movement.

The second way is that America has failed to develop the vocational education that exists in countries like Germany. The result is that students whose strength is not traditionally academic, but more vocational are not given the education which will allow them to succeed.

Question from Denean Steward, Teacher, Pershing Accelerated School:
1. I am completing my Master’s Project on the achievement gap, and I have looked at scores in the entire state of Missouri. The achievement gap is profound. It is found at every socioeconomic level in every city, suburb across the United States. The only answers I have found is “No Excuse Schools” strategies to increase reading and math instruction. What are the best strategies to eliminate the achievement gap at middle and higher socioeconomic levels?

Arthur E. Levine:
There is a wonderful study by Jeanne Brooks-Gunn that looked at exactly this question. She answered the question far better than I can. Take a look.

Question from Peter Fredlake, Education Division, US Holocaust Memorial Museum:
In an age of test-driven curricula, how do we train tomorrow’s teachers and administrators to guide students in examining issues of conscience and their roles as responsible citizens?

Arthur E. Levine:
I don’t believe we have to choose between tests and teaching responsible citizenship. Both need to be part of the curriculum. The key is to include isues of responsible citizenship in state standards and to make ethics a part of the curriculum in every subject area. The tests, which I regard as primitive today, need to be far better overtime, so the expression teaching to the test disappears. The test or assessment would be invisible, simply the vehicle for assessing mastery of standards.

Question from Dr. Karen Seals, Education Program Consultant, Kansas State Department of Education:
Broad-sweeping changes are needed in educational systems across the U.S. (at all levels) in order to eliminate achievement gaps and disparities anytime soon. To what degree do you believe teacher training programs, collectively, have incorporated tenets of equal educational opportunity and seriously endeavored to address achievement gap issues in teacher preparation courses/practicums, etc.? Thank you.

Arthur E. Levine:
I think the achievement gap and equity are issues that dominate conversations at education schools. They have for the most part been unable to translate that concern into a curriculum that meets the needs of children in our inner cities. Teacher education programs are only partially, very partially, to blame for the the gap which is more a relection of the isolation of the poor, low incomes, parental educational levels, housing, jobs, lower teacher salaries in our cities, poorer curriculum materials, the absence of preschools for the poor, the inability of urban schools to recruit a greater proportion of top teachers, poor plant, one size fits all in terms of the length of the school year, and an assortment of other ills.

Question from Carla Monroe, Research Scientist, UGA:
While many institutions of higher education are taking measures to diversify student populations, it is particularly difficult to attract and retain African American and Latino males. Why do you think this is? What recommendations do you have for addressing the problem?

Arthur E. Levine:
At the moment there are more African American males in prison than four year colleges. Males in poor neighborhoods in particular face a series of obstacles to schooling including peers, gangs, availability of low level service jobs, and more. They see little connection, in my research, between advanced education and future success than their future possibilities. Mortality rates are also far higher.

I once did a study of poor kids who made it to higher education who should have ended up in jail, pregnant, dead, etc given the demographics of their neighborhoods. The difference for these kids was early intervention and a mentor.

Question from Michelle Sylvaria, doctoral student at BU:
I will be in residence at BU in the Ed.D program in Administration, Training and Policy this September. What do you think the future holds for EdD recipients? I am slightly concerned that after all my hard work, the degree will be phased out by colleges and universities.

Arthur E. Levine:
After a year and a half,encouraging education schools to replace the EDD with an MEA, I am confident that education school will not do this. The EdD is the union card for a superintendency despite the rise in hiring nontraditional candidates. I still recommend that students who want to be sups get an EDD or PHD.

Question from Susan Villani, Senior Program/ Research Associate, Learning Innovations at WestEd:
As we all know, new principals face tremendous challenges. What suggestions do you have for mentors of new principals? What resources would you recommend, in addition to your own work, for coaching new principals?

Arthur E. Levine:
New Principals come to the job with a host of courses and whatever teaching and administrative experience they had prior to the job. Heading an organization is dramatically different than any other position in the organization. No matter how close one is to the job prior to sitting in the seat, the experience is initially shocking. Mentors are needed to help the new principal make the transition, to evaluate the principal’s performance and serve as a coach, to listen to problem and offer counsel, and to serve as a model of good practice. Mentors need to do all of those things.

Question from Terry Gates, President/CEO, Hoenny Center for R&D in Teaching, St. Louis, MO:
Our society assumes that teacher education should begin at the college level, and all reform proposals since A Nation at Risk have focused recommendations at post-high school programs. But, there is evidence of effectiveness in pK-12 achievement gains by peer teachers, and a growing interest in beginning teacher development much earlier. Why not?

Arthur E. Levine:
I am not aware of that research and would love to see it.

Question from Jillian Bichsel, Asst. Principal, Fox Chapel Are High Dchool:
1) When we speak of educational reform, there are many do’s and don’ts that researchers and practitioners offer. I am wondering if you could pick the TOP 3 actions that high schools should take in order to close the achievement gap.

2) What are your thoughts about providing a national curriculum for professional development for principals and educational leaders? The National Institute of School Leadership (NISL) is now selling several modules of professional development for principals/leadership teams to state departments and other educational agencies? I am wondering if you support this and if you think that corporate involvement with economic advantages in educational matters should be a concern or just part of the plan for improvement?

Arthur E. Levine:
I am a pragmatist regarding professional development. Show me anything that works in promoting student learning and I will support it enthusiastically whether created by a for profit or a not for profit. Top three for me are recruit a superb principal, engage in research on student performance so that achievement can be tracked relative to state standards and the effect of any intervention can be assessed,and recruit excellent new teachers and retain and develop the existing teacher force.

Question from Chris Morehouse, Analyst, US GAO:
Some worry that, with the intense focus now on bringing low-achieving students up to proficiency, resources may be cut for the highest-performing students, i.e., the gifted & talented. Is there any evidence for this?

Arthur E. Levine:
Not that I have seen. The issue needs to be equity and excellence for all children. If we focus simply on equity, we can achieve that by offering every child a poor to mediocre education. That is unacceptable.

As for the highest performing student, one piece of evidence of growing concern for them is the mutiplication of AP courses.

Question from Jade Floyd, Communications Manager, American Asso. of Colleges for Teacher Education:
Some institutionally-based teacher education programs are particularly well known and highly regarded for their extensive clinical experience components. From your research, can you briefly describe some of these particularly effective clinical models?

Arthur E. Levine:
Emporia State, Alverno College, University of Virginia, Boston College and Stanford would be examples.

P.S. I think Teachers College is pretty good too.

Question from Peter Fredlake, Education Division, US Holocaust Memorial Museum:
How can teacher training institutions more effectively address the ethics of the teaching profession?

Arthur E. Levine:
I am impressed with a series of programs which have accomplished this such as Facing History. As for ethics of teaching, I believe it is the obligation of every profession to teach the ethical standards expected of a practioner. This needs to be done in terms of course content, but it also needs to be modeled by collegiate and clinical faculty. This needs to be part of every course in teacher preparation. In addition, there should be a course on the ethics of the profession. Half would be offered at the time of matriculation and the other half as a graduation capstone.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Thank you for joining us for today’s chat. And a special thanks to our guest for offering his insights and opinions on a variety of topics in education. This chat is now over. A transcript will be posted shortly on

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