Action Area 3: Transform the Education Profession

At worst, education is a low paying, low status profession. In Universities, Education is a fragmented discipline area, assuming a professional service role more often than it does a leading intellectual role. One simple metric for the overall social value placed upon education as a profession and an area of social development is the miniscule amounts spent on R&D—an estimated 0.25% of education budgets, compared to 5 to 15 percent for engineering and medicine.156

As a profession, education is in need of major transformation. Some of the transformation is in employment conditions, including pay rates and greater opportunities for working flexible hours (more or less than the conventional working week). Other parts of the transformation need to be in very nature of the job—creating a richer working environment (teacher safety, student engagement, school physical environments, greater professional responsibility, more holistic relationships with learners, more complex and rewarding relationships with communities). Quite simply, teaching needs to be made a more attractive profession.

Part of this shift will come with a transition from legacy notions of teaching to new notions of learning design, the latter capturing the spirit of a reflective, intellectual work culture rather than the instrumental role of teachers of the recent past, defined by narrowly delimited standards and testable learner outcomes. Teachers need to conceive themselves increasingly as participant designers and action researchers—planning designs for learning, enacting these plans, collecting outcomes data, evaluating that data and redesigning programs in a process of continuous improvement. Instead of acting in as conduits in a standards-textbook-test pipeline, teachers need to become active professionals, knowledge managers involved in peer-to-peer professional collaborations, designing, sharing and evaluating curriculum.

Moving beyond the boundaries of the school, teachers should consider themselves a knowledge profession, making local contributions by addressing the big questions of our time in a community context—working with learners in the community to address real world issues of the environment, employment, inclusion and technology. Schools can become knowledge centers for communities, sites of energetic intellectual inquiry and practical solution development, to the enormous benefit of students. Teachers should be community experts and intellectual leaders, in this, the uniquely all-encompassing (there is not an area of the human and natural world for which there is no teacher or no curriculum) and quintessentially intellectual profession.

Action Items

Action Item 3.1: Improve the Quality of Working Life of Teaching and Enhance the Rewards of Teaching

Develop a Professional Pedagogue Program, to reconceive and redesign the job of teaching. This may involve more flexible working conditions for teachers (part time to overtime in full service extended-hours schools, and partly online in telecommuting arrangements, all with flexible remuneration structures). It may involve creating hybrid positions, bringing in health, community and even commercial services into the school, or making joint school-community and school-business appointments. The program would also aim to increase the level of professional responsibility for teachers by reconceiving them as learning designers and action researchers. It would create a system of peer and expert review to evaluate the quality of learning community designs, the effectiveness of their delivery and their impacts on learners. The Professional Pedagogue Program would work in a number of experimental ‘lighthouse sites’, with a strategy to generalize best practices via a public communications strategy and teacher professional development offerings.

Action Item 3.2: Build Educational R&D into Every School

Create Learning Design Labs in every school, connecting teacher training colleges directly with the life of schools: as focal points for curriculum design, outcomes evaluation, trainee student placement and ongoing professional development. Institutionalize a culture of research and development, innovation and continuous improvement.

Action Item 3.3: Recruit New Teachers and Create Better Teachers

More than half the current teaching force will retire in the next ten years and the number of new teachers leaving the profession within the first few years of service is increasing. Meanwhile, teacher education colleges have been criticized for not creating enough teachers, and teachers that are good enough. A revitalized pre-service Teach-the-Teacher Program would aim to transform teacher education to make it more relevant to the learners of today and the school of the future, and also create flexible pathways to certification, including programs of rigorous on-the-job mentoring and certification for non-education graduates. The program would also retrain workers displaced from other industries or returning from military service as teaching aides and teachers, closely integrated into school-based Learning Design Labs.

Action Item 3.4: Make a Quantum Leap in Education R&D

Only 0.25% of education funding currently goes towards research into research on teaching and learning. If we are to design new, more effective and more resource-efficient teaching methods, considerably more resources need to be devoted to R&D. The Breakthroughs in Learning initiative would aim to do more than prove ‘what works’ in a conventional frame of reference. Rather, its focus would be on new designs for learning, from the microdynamics of pedagogy to the larger question of the design of learning communities. Importantly, a broader range of research methods would be supported in addition to the exclusive focus on randomized controlled experimentation of recent years, including for instance mixed methods, qualitative case-based methods, participatory R&D involving schools and academic experts, action research, and longitudinal research linked to school-collected data.

Supporting Evidence

Supporting Evidence 3.1: Preparing Teachers for Tomorrow

The history of teacher education in the US speaks to a past in which teacher education supported social development. Since its inception, mass education has been tied to interests of religion, business, and national security. Trained teachers have been pivotal. The education of our nation’s children is of tremendous importance in the early 21st century, just as it has always been. We know that highly qualified teachers are a lynchpin to effective change. We also acknowledge that current teacher training practices are wanting and in need of re-envisioning.

Quality teacher education has consistently been under funded and tethered to State governments’ labyrinthine teacher education licensure systems. Colleges and schools of education have walked a precarious tightrope between the study of education as a research discipline while simultaneously undertaking the practical task of training future classroom teachers. The difficulties arise from upon several misconceptions about the role of education and the role of colleges and schools of education in society. Most adults, having experienced years of education, embrace commonsensical ideas of how education should occur in classrooms, without understanding the training received (or not received) by their former teachers and educators. Just as attorneys at law, medical doctors, scientists, engineers require education and training, high quality teachers demand no less. In fact, given the responsibility of educating the nation’s children, the demands in some senses greater. What colleges and schools of education do best is study the field of education whilst at the same time preparing researchers, teacher educators, and classroom teachers along with school administrators and scholars in higher education. These two tasks are inseparable. Recently, however, there have been several other institutions that seek to train and educate teachers without the same rigorous disciplinary practices, and with mixed results.157

To improve the quality of teacher education, research, and practice for all children regardless of their geographical locale, will require greater efforts of recruiting, educating/training, retooling, and retaining teachers. The use of new technologies can enable quality instruction to be had in areas where high quality education has been limited or nonexistent. There is no singular source for answers to the complex issues and challenges confronting education today. However, schools of education are uniquely situated to offer a clear pathway for change. Likewise an emphasis on any singular aspect of change from research to classroom instruction is an inadequate response to change. What is needed is a multi-pronged approach to innovative thought for the human and humane enterprise of education in a globalized economy.

The challenge to prepare educators for the 21st century is enormous and in some fundamental ways, takes us into uncharted territory. All educators—from scholars, to researchers, to teachers—will need to know how to welcome every child and must work diligently to offer each child the education that he or she needs to become a productive citizen who is prepared for life in a global economy. The bulk of research under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), in response to the call for evidence- and scientifically- based research has left on the sidelines human (inter and intra personal) factors that make reform and interventions successful. Historically, education reform efforts have failed to have lasting impact because they sought a generic response to context-specific challenges, drawing on disciplinary knowledge and techniques that are related to but not center on education.158

Change in education calls for holistic approaches to research and teacher training to address the challenges in the 21st century. We are aware that actual change takes time and cannot be easily measured; we are not suggesting quick fixes, but we are committed to innovation to address the needs of all children. Solutions to the challenges should include a focused effort to recruit and maintain a diverse body of teacher candidates, training placements in a variety of educational settings, systematic follow-up of graduates through their first few years in the profession, support, coaching, and retooling of in-service teachers, and professional development programs working within community based programs.

To move US education into the 21st century, teams of education researchers need to work in schools alongside classroom teachers and school administrators using a variety of methods of inquiry (action research, ethnography, critical theory, history, experimental and quasi-experimental, mixed-methods, and qualitative research).

Our goal is extend and create research initiatives that are authentic, comprehensive, responsive, and socially just, and most importantly, that capture the complexity of challenges and offer thoughtful solutions. As a nation we need to rearticulate has worked well, under what conditions, and for whom, as well as to articulate, for whom research and reform efforts have what not worked well, under what conditions. Then, we need to rework the areas in which we are failing to support education for all. Our goal is not to conduct research for research’s sake but research that articulates processes and presents a way forward for progress and an improved democratic nation.

— Arlette Ingram Willis

Supporting Evidence 3.2: What is this Science, ‘Education’?

In order to minimize what were perceived to be ‘political’ agendas in education, the US has over the past decade retreated into narrowly circumscribed methods as the basis for the learning sciences. Educational research funding under No Child Left Behind was tied to the ‘gold standard’ of randomised controlled experimentation. This idea is represented in its clearest and most influential form in the report of the US National Research Council, Scientific Research in Education.159 The report asserted that only a certain kind of empirical research and controlled experimentation—x initiative leads to y measurable results—is worthy of the name ‘science’. Like the medical scientist, we might give some learners a dosage of a certain kind of educational medicine and others a placebo to see whether a particular intervention produces better test results. This, the report calls ‘evidence-based research’, rather too ambitiously insofar as there are surely other roads to empirical knowledge of the social world. The Department of Education was explicit about its reasons for establishing this: ‘Unlike medicine, agriculture and industrial production, the field of education operates largely on the basis of ideology and consensus. As such, it is subject to fads and is incapable of the cumulative progress that follows from the application of the scientific method and from the systematic collection and use of objective information ... We will change education to make it into an evidence-based field’.160 So, in this conception, the intellectual task of education is to measure various classroom inputs in relation to learner test outputs an instrumentalist way without critically examining the broader frame of reference of the classroom in a changing society and the relevance of the outputs. For its methodical proceduralism alone, this variant of the discipline of education calls itself science. But what if it turns out to be a science which is attempting minor re-engineering of a pedagogical system which might be in need of a more thoroughgoing overhaul?

One possible rejoinder to the elevation of randomized controlled experimentation as the beginning and end of educational science, is that education can never be like a science—the model of controlled experimentation offered by laboratory natural science is unachievable in education and if anything unethical.161 We’re dealing with human beings with interests, desires, identities and agency, not just cognitive entities and clinically isolatable pedagogical moves.

Another rejoinder is that the natural and technological sciences are themselves ‘ideological’—more subject to contestation around axes of human interest—than the narrow understanding of science proffered by the proponents of ‘evidence-based’ research seem to be able to comprehend. Whether it be bioethics, or the politics of climate research, or the debates around Darwinism and ‘intelligent design’, or the semantics of computer systems, questions of politics and ideology are bound closely with the ostensible evidence. There can no longer be any faux empiricism, not even in the natural and technological sciences. Nor can there be narrowly unambitious and apolitical horizons. Maybe there’s something fundamentally wanting in the institutional inheritance that is today’s schools? Meanwhile medical scientists are trying to tackle problems that are seemingly impossible and, much of the time, ethically contentious. They’re doing something bigger than randomized controlled experimentation. Their ambitions are high. Their risks great. They are trying to come up with things that are fundamentally new, radically innovative, shockingly transformative. Any such ambitions are way beyond the bounds of a narrowly ‘evidence-based’ view of education science, methodologically and in practice.162

— Mary Kalantzis and Bill Cope

Supporting Evidence 3.3: Teacher Certification Alternatives

The importance of high quality alternatives to traditional, 4-year undergraduate teacher education programs is not debatable, given the need, the age of the teacher population and the diversity of the potential teacher candidate pool163. What is debatable – and hotly debated – are questions about who should offer these programs, what they should comprise and how they should be structured.

The policy debate over alternative certification programs has largely devolved into ‘who should be doing teacher education?’ with the choices being (a) universities or (b) just about anybody else. Proponents of market-driven approaches tout alternative certification as a way to increase access into teaching while bypassing intransigent colleges of education.164 Supporters of professional teacher education and certification point to failures of “short cut” certification programs.165 Ideological arguments overshadow two important facts: one is that universities are intimately involved in alternative certification programming; the other is that broad variations within both traditional and alternative programs muddy the waters enough to render such arguments moot.166

Contemporary debate seems to center largely on Teach for America (TFA), perhaps because it has so successfully captured the attention and the hearts of policy makers and the media. TFA has placed 20,000 teachers in high-need schools during its existence; according to the 2008 Senior Survey, TFA was the second-largest employer of University of Illinois graduates. The success of TFA teachers in improving student achievement varies (as it does with teachers from traditional programs). 167 A graver concern is that the vast majority of TFA teachers do not fulfill whatever promise they show, moving on to their “real” careers after completing their two-year commitment.168

Until research is able to link specific aspects of teacher preparation directly to student achievement (and that train has left the station), all discussion is at least somewhat speculative. However, years of research and practice in an ever-evolving context have yielded generally accepted notions about what good teachers need to know and be able to do: know their subject, exercise judgment to apply instructional approaches that work best for that subject, differentiate instruction to address the needs of very diverse students, understand social and emotional development, assess students’ progress, interpret the results and use them to improve instruction, manage a fertile learning environment, and negotiate the dynamics of the parallel universe that is “school” – all on top of the most fundamental qualities of genuinely caring about students and believing they can succeed.169

Universities with quality traditional teacher education programs are well positioned to create high quality alternative programs; however, restrictive state and/or national program approval and accreditation requirements hamstring efforts to offer programs that are truly “alternative.” Institutions are left with programs that are very similar to their traditional programs in accessibility, duration, and expense. Persons interested in teaching have fairly open access to cheaper, faster, closer and most probably easier alternatives to university certification programs. Creative thinking by policy makers and education experts is needed to address this dilemma. The model in the succeeding paragraph is presented to stimulate discussion. Note that it applies only to secondary programs, where the most serious shortages reside (except for special education; but I would argue it is not practical to prepare a special educator in an abbreviated program).

For starters, it is given that the university is working in close partnership with a school or schools to develop and deliver the program. Subject matter knowledge is demonstrated by passage of a state- or nationally-approved content test, period. No additional assessment or subject matter course work is required. Appropriate screening processes/background checks determine dispositional suitability. These are conditions for admission to the program. All instruction is situated in an intensive, year-long, full-time internship experience under a mentor teacher in a real school with real students. Successfully passing the internship is the final and only requirement for achieving initial certification. Institutions are given a free hand to develop the essential skills of content pedagogy, differentiated instruction, and assessment of student learning in, with, and around the internship. One to two years of ongoing induction and mentoring on the job is mandatory to achieve ‘full’ or ‘advanced’ certification.

— Chris Roegge

Supporting Evidence 3.4: Reforming Pre-Service Education to Fit the Times and Shape the Future

The American people face two long-term, formidable imperatives: To invest a population both with the skills and creativity to compete in a global economy and with the knowledge necessary to meet the many and multiplying complex challenges of a global society. Absent the infusion of these skills and knowledge in the population as a whole and in the lives of individual Americans, the United States as an open society, and open societies everywhere, are at perilous risk.

Only a second-to-none educational system can address these mutually reinforcing imperatives. Such a system must disseminate solid, tested knowledge, incorporate best teaching practices, and pursue, ceaselessly, nimble and innovative strategies, adaptive to new national and global challenges and imaginatively exploitive of opportunities to perfect the system, forming ideally a virtuous circle.

Among the several, necessary requirements for superior education in the 21st century is a reliable and responsive K-12 system of teacher education. That system in the United States currently produces a national cadre of instructors of widely varying professional preparation, competence, sense of civic responsibility, and instilled passion for teaching. That obviously is not enough to meet national needs. The system has to be reformed.

Given the powerful and forbidding inertial forces resisting change, reform will be long, hard, and scarcely assured. To start the process of reform and to sustain it over the next generation, a well-funded and aggressively led national program of reform of pre-service education must be launched and maintained over the initial education and professional careers of K-12 teachers.

To be awarded a professional certificate to teach in primary and secondary schools, instructors must meet two minimal but indispensable tests, both keyed to the educational imperatives imposed on the nation by globalization. First, all must be computer literate, capable of using and teaching widely employed, standard application programs and skilled in the navigation tools of the internet. These skills (and their continual upgrading) would complement the foundational competencies possessed by these prospective professionals in teaching mathematics, the physical and biological sciences, social sciences, humanities, and the arts.

Second, all prospective K-12 professionals must acquire the conceptual and analytic skills to understand the complex issues impacting on the nation and on the world’s populations and train students in how to understand these challenges. Imparting the analytic skills to students to enable them to process information and knowledge about the issues their generation must address, as future national and global citizens, is a precondition for supporting effective policies to cope and resolve them.

Professionals at the K-12 level must assume the role of global informational and knowledge entrepreneurs. That role combines two obligations: to keep abreast of the principal challenges confronting the nation to inform their students of these challenges, whether through formal lesson plans or in informal discussions, and to instill and inspire them to embrace their civic responsibility to contribute to their resolution. No open society can survive and thrive unless its members can continually bridge the gap between public will as a sine qua non to support and legitimate national policies and an informed public will capable of fashioning effective policies responsive to national and global needs. Freely governed open societies are demanding regimes: like all regimes they must not only solve real problems, but these solutions must also enjoy public support, struck in the coinage and currency of accountability, transparency, and legitimacy.

Reform of pre-service programs implies that Colleges of Education must increasingly be integrated into the larger educational networks of their colleges and universities and be prepared to assume a leading role in the development of the teaching, research, and outreach agendas of their academic and local communities. Isolation and insulation are no longer options either for programs to educate teachers or for the disciplines that comprise a college or university. Members of both academic communities need to become much closer as partners in a shared educational commitment to contribute more effectively and responsibly to the skill and knowledge needs of their students and, ipso facto, those of the American people.

To encourage reforms, tailored to the varied needs of the nation across locales and regions, and to resist the lures that Washington always knows best or that one suit fits all, a national competition should be organized, similar to the Title VI process, in which resourceful and innovative Colleges of Education would compete for funds to reform their pre-service curricula. Competition for funds would also preclude the distribution of scarce public funds through the fiat of a hierarchically administered process which would not be tested against the rigors of peer review.

The several models of curricula reform, expected to emerge from these annual competitions, would be public goods. Other Colleges of Education could draw on them in reforming and refining their pre-service programs. They, in turn, would then be positioned to compete for funding to reform their pre-service curricula. These reforms would respond to the twin educational imperatives confronting the nation. They would also be tailored, differentially, to exploit the opportunities for creative change and to relax or surmount the constraints for innovation associated with particular academic and local communities. The outcome would be the institutionalization of self-sustaining reform of K-12 pre-service education to fit the times and shape the future.

— Edward A. Kolodziej

Supporting Evidence 3.5: Trends in Class Size in U.S. Public Schools

Tennessee’s Project STAR, one of the few large scale educational experiments in U.S. history, established smaller class sizes as a valuable approach for improving achievement in primary schools.170 In the last 40 years, pupil-to-teacher ratios have declined relatively steadily, from 25 to 1 in 1965 to around 16 to 1 in 2002.171 Average class size, a different measure than student-to-teacher ratios, in U.S. public schools was about 21-24 students in 2000, depending on the grade level of the school.172 Private schools in the U.S., in comparison, have an average class size of 19. 173

As with many educational inputs in the U.S., there is considerable amount of variance on these measures across U.S. states. Public school elementary student-to-teacher ratios range from about 12.5 to 1 in states like Nebraska and Vermont to 20 to 1 in California.174 Likewise, high school ratios range from about 12 to 1 in Vermont and Washington, DC, to 22 to 1 in California.175 In international perspective, U.S. class sizes and student to teacher ratios overall are similar to those in the wealthier European countries, although U.S. student to teacher ratios in secondary schools tend to be slightly higher.176

— Peter Weitzel

Supporting Evidence 3.5: Violence Against American School Teachers

Today’s teachers are faced with a number of challenges. For example, they are expected to teach a population that is increasingly diverse not only in terms of unique cultural backgrounds, but also in terms of academic, behavioral, and social skill sets.177 Further, teachers are expected to achieve high academic standards for all students (e.g. under No Child Left Behind); accommodate students with exceptionalities in inclusive settings; and serve students who exhibit high levels of violent behavior that stem from the growing incivility of our society. Furthermore, teachers are expected to address the flood of school violence by preventing the development of antisocial behavior while promoting student prosocial behavior and academic performance.178

Despite declines in juvenile violence, the prevalence of violent crimes in school continues to be alarming. For example, high school students responding to a national survey in 2003 indicated that fear of school-related crime prompted 5 out of 100 students to miss school at least once during the previous month.179 Even teachers are victims of crime. In one year, 253,100 (7%) of teachers (8% secondary, 6% elementary level) were threatened with injury.180 In short, school can be a frightening place for both students and teachers.

The consequences of school violence affect not only students, teachers, and administrators, but society as a whole – particularly when the violence is extreme as in the cases of school shootings. The shocking instances of violence that occurred in our nation’s schools during recent years are beyond tragic and have untold costs emotionally, financially, academically and otherwise. While many educators did not imagine they would have to address violent and antisocial behavior, they are facts of life that must be attended to by our schools.

The costs of teacher victimization range from lost wages; to early exiting of the profession; to lost instructional time.181 Before we can begin to solve the problem of violence against teachers and students in our schools, we must first have a measurement system that provides an accurate assessment of the magnitude of the problem and then we need to conduct comprehensive studies to identify ways in which to prevent violence against teachers. While measures exist to assess violence against students, measures do not exist to assess violence directed against teachers and factors that contribute to this problem. This represents a significant gap in the available armamentarium of school-based measures, as violence against teachers can strongly influence children’s behavior and learning outcomes.

— Dorothy Espelage

Supporting Evidence 3.6: Schools as Focal Points for Communities

Over the past three decades we have witnessed the disintegration of the communities of which schools have always been a part. As a result of changes in the patterns of work and labor relations, modes of production and consumption, mobility of people, media and youth cultures, as well as neoliberal economic policy, communities have become increasingly fragmented, with people living in them increasingly alienated from each other. Neo-liberalism has encouraged a destructive form of individualism, defined more by self-interest than by a sense of community. This has been amply demonstrated by Robert Putnam, in his book, Bowling Alone. Putnam has shown how Americans are becoming increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, as well as from their democratic structures. Putnam warns that our stock of social capital—the very fabric of our connections with each other—has plummeted, impoverishing both our communities and our lives.182

Richard Sennett has similarly documented ‘the fall of the public man’, where social relations are now defined more by a new culture of consumerism than by commitment to a range of social goods.183 Zygmunt Bauman has called this ‘liquid modernity’, produced by ‘the new remoteness and un-reachability of global systemic structure coupled with the unstructured and under-defined, fluid state of the immediate setting of life-politics and human togetherness’.184 The current global economic crisis is only going to exacerbate these tendencies, unless we begin to re-imagine and once again build communities that give us a sense of belonging, where we can live our lives not only for ourselves but also for each other.

Schools have traditionally been a major site where communities are formed and develop. For John Dewey schools were only successful when they communities in which they were located valued them, and when schools accepted the responsibility of giving students a sense of civic pride, when they worked towards community renewal, especially in the context of rapid historical changes. In this sense, Dewey saw community not only as a geographical location, but a social project that involved a struggle in negotiating and living the conditions that give us a collective sense of meaning and purpose.185

In the era of globalization, we belong to multiple communities, but this does not eliminate the need for schools to continually try to understand, build and develop those multiple communities across space and social categories. Much of the recent discourse around educational reform has focused largely on what needs to happen within the boundaries of the school. We are often guilty of looking at schools as a sum of individual students and teachers. This ignores the role schools must now play in rebuilding communities, in some cases devastated by decades of deindustrialization and economic restructuring. In such circumstances the role schools must play in giving students intellectual and practical resources with which to understand and address issues of social and economic change is even greater.

This role however should not be viewed as a task that is in addition to the traditional roles schools have played in helping students acquire knowledge, skills and values. Rather, the processes of teaching and learning should themselves be informed by a concern for the community. Effective schools must not only use community resources but also contribute to community building. Now that we have a former ‘community organizer’ as the President of the United States, we must try to re-imagine the nature of the relationship between schools and their communities, so that educational reform is not concerned solely with the interests of the individuals, but of communities as well.

— Fazal Rizvi