The Cost of AP Exams

Now that I'm back from vacation and summer's winding down I thought I'd start getting back to more classroom related posts. I still have a few summer topics I want to write about – standards and side projects in particular but I'm also looking forward to talking more about the classroom since, after all, at my core, I'm a teacher. When I saw this article in my inbox this morning I thought I'd talk about it.

In the piece, Lindsey Tepe since more kids are taking AP classes and they're very expensive, schools should look to lower other costs related to AP classes so as to provide financial support so that students can take that oh so important end of year exam:

While the College Board continues to reimburse about one-third of the test cost for eligible low-income students, only about half of states are now offering any further financial assistance for students.

Ms. Tepe's solution? Lower text book costs. As a way of lowering school costs, I'm all for it. I've used free online resources in lieu of textbooks for years but the savings should go somewhere where it can make a difference. Perhaps lowering class sizes. The fatal flaw in Ms. Teps's piece is that it continues spinning the misplaced narrative that AP Exams are a very important part of a child's education.

Let's be reminded of something: The AP Exam is one thing - an exam - a single test at the end of the year.

The narrative is that students should take more and more AP classes, that they're somehow better for kids. Part of this is due to the potential college credit and part is because the public has been bamboozled by the ridiculous school ratings that give credit for AP classes taken. Back in "the day," AP classes were basically early college. You could then argue that they were the most rigorous classes offered in a school. AP Calc was basically college Calc. Same for APCS-AB, AP-Bio and the rest. Now, with classes like APCS-P aimed to be accessible to typical high school students in the lower grades, they can't (but still will) make that claim. In fact, at Stuy, my former school, there are plenty of non AP classes that are more rigorous than AP classes and the best AP teachers don't always cover the whole syllabus because they're more concerned with their students actually learning rather than scoring 5 on an exam.

On the college credit front, if a student has a high probability of saving money through AP credit then I'm all for it but otherwise, it's just money going to the college board.

It seems ridiculous for me to have to write this but the important part of a class is, you know, the class. Not the single exam given by an outside agency at the end and graded after the semester concludes.

My suggestion? Offer college level work to students that are ready for it but don't push the AP exam. This would save a ton of money. What value does the college board actually bring to the table? Remember, they're making a pretty penny on all of this testing. A math teacher should be able to teach calculus with or without AP. A good text being used by that teacher in class - be it free or paid for is actually much more important to a student learning calculus than a single exam taken at the end of the year. I'd go further and say that I'd trust the teacher's exam more than the college board's. If a teacher knows the math but needs to see some sample syllabi, they're a web search way. The same is true for most other college courses that have AP equivalents and maybe even more so for computer science.

At the end of the day it should be about students learning not about students taking high stakes exams.

Ethics, Cybersecurity, ethics, curricula and standards

This morning, I read Alfred Thompson's post on teaching cybersecurity. as Alfred says, it's something of a CS Ed buzzword this summer.

Another hot topic in K12 CS Ed this summer is the inclusion of ethics in our CS courses courtesy of efforts like the #ethicalCS twitter chat every Wednesday at 8:00 Eastern time hosted by Saber Khan.

Discussions about both topics include "where should we be doing this?" "What should we be doing?" and of course "How?"

This got me thinking about designing curriculum from the top down - that is, as dictated by outside forces: principals, superintendents, states, industry or bottom up: a teacher sees a need and designs something for their students.

The best classes I've seen are those designed by a passionate teacher from the ground up. I met Doug Bergman at this past year's CSTA conference. He's terrific. I think he came to the conference wanting to find out more about what cybersecurity really meant. By the second day, he was raving about all the amazing possibilities. I'd love to be in the class he develops.

On the other hand, when topics or standards are forced down from above, I've seen something entirely different.

I've observed and been involved in cybersecurity discussions with CS teachers. The discussion goes something like this:

  • Well, we do memory allocation in course XYZ so we can give a homework assignment there.
  • We can rewrite the story (theme) for the assignment in our data structures class.
  • We already do a crypto assignment in algorithms so we're already doing it.

I've seen the same with groups of math teachers discussing implementing common core. They talk about resequencing topics, rewriting a few word problems or homework assignments but at the core, the feeling is "we already know how to teach math."

It gets worse when there's a standardized or high stakes test at the end of the tunnel and you get the "you need this for the test" type units.

This might not be as big of a problem in K12 CS right now because so many teachers are just learning their craft but in established fields such as math or college CS, when an edict comes from above telling a teacher how to teach, unless the teacher really believes in it, the teacher will only pay lip service to it. If it isn't an issue in CS Ed right now, it will eventually become one as our field develops legs.

This is arguably a bigger issue with Ethical CS than cybersecurity. If the teacher doesn't really believe it's an important topic, we'll get lip service at best and in the case of ethics, unless the teacher really believes it and models it, the students will be able to tell that it's a show.

I don't have an answer other than what my friend and mentor Herb Greenhut told me many years ago "Solving the education problem is easy. Hire good teachers and get the f*ck out of the way."

Grit: A Kind Word and a Gun

Back in May, I read this post about Angela Duckworth and Grit. Grit has become an education buzzword in the past few years so I figured I should read Duckworth's book. It took this long because there was a long waiting list at the New York Public Library to get the ebook. I'm still not quite finished with the book but I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on the book and the buzz.

The first big takeaway is "you can get much further with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone." Or in grit terms Duckworth says a number of times that Grit is important but that other factors such as talent do indeed come into play and towards the end of the book she lists other character qualities that are arguably more important than grit. I'll get back to grit + other qualities towards the end of this post. On the buzz side, all of that's forgotten - in the ed reform world it's all grit all the time. We must teach it at our low income schools and we should include grit in our evaluation of teachers and schools.

Duckworth recently has come out to say grit shouldn't be used in evaluating schools and teachers but as I mentioned a few days ago, ed reformers have ways of taking arguably good ideas and using them towards awful ends.

So we have a basic premise that hard work and sticktoitiveness is important but so is talent. Talent alone won't get you as far as talent and grit.

So in spite of the "ed reformers" take on grit, given Duckworth's balanced perspective, I was hooked.

Where Duckworth started to lose me, however is when she dove into the education landscape for examples.

First up is Teach for America. Certainly the founder, Wendy Kopp is full of grit and Duckworth talks about teachers needing to be gritty but when you talk about TFA, you're talking about a group that:

  • has a 5 week training program - not nearly enough to learn to teach
  • has a 2 year commitment before moving to "better things"
  • encourages practices like scripted lessons

None of this sounds particularly gritty to me.

Duckworth also highlights the KIPP charter chain as an terrific example of grit and the success that follows. She touts KIPP's graduation rate neglecting to mention that like most other charters claiming miracles, KIPP's stats should be eyed with scrutiny (link, link, link). I would have expected a researcher to dig a little deeper.

My friend, former colleague, and TFA alum Gary Rubinstein visited a KIPP school in NY a few years ago. His take:

So what I saw there was not very impressive. I didn’t see any classes where teachers were getting that mythical period and half of growth in one period. I saw some good teaching, mostly average teaching, and even some very bad teaching. I saw a novice teacher struggle to control a class of nine students. They were walking all over him and accomplished very little that period.

And in terms of KIPP's grit training:

I also saw the ‘grit’ training program which amounted to the students
getting the teacher to define very clearly how little homework they
would have to do to still get their candy bar rewards.

Finally, Duckworth holds up Geoffrey Canada's as another shiny example failing to notice that again, the Emperor has no clothes and if you look at attrition, the results are far from stellar.

All of this left me thinking that if Duckworth was so off base with these three example where I have some details of the behind the scenes going on, how much can I trust the rest of the book?

In spite of this, I still agreed with Duckworth's basic premise so I read on.

Later in the book, Duckworth talks about developing grit. This quote struck me:

Like a lot of parents I had a strong intuition that grit is enahnced by doing activities like ballet… or piano … or football…

It struck me because it seemed funny coming from a researcher. It reminded me of Christopher Alexander's "A Timeless Way of Building," a book on architecture that is sometimes credit as the root source for Object Oriented Programming. Alexander talks about how societies throughout history and throughout the world "knew" how to build certain structures – barns, homes with certain features, even towns. Back in the day we didn't have engineering and architecture schools but we figured out how to do these things and we figured it out pretty much universally. Duckworth is basically saying "parents know." It reminded me of my belief - "teachers know." This applies to teaching content and teaching skills like grit. You can't script a grit lesson. A good teacher knows when a student needs encouragement, when a student needs to be coddled and when a student needs to be redirected.

This post has been something of a ramble but I want to get back to grit and other qualities and how people are talking about grit as the be all and end all and not just a component.

Over on AVC, in the post that got me to read Grit, Fred closed with:

If you hire and manage people, if you run start and run companies, if
you invest in people and their projects, then Grit is a book you
should read.

He's absolutely right but remember the whole person and what you've prescreened for before you consider grit.

Way back when discussions were ongoing about the design for AFSE - before the DOE stopped returning my emails and froze me out of the process I was at am meeting. A bunch of tech industry heavy hitters were there. We were arguing over admission screening - did the school need one. My position was that if you wanted to produce "Google ready" engineers after high school you needed one. If that wasn't the goal you didn't. One of the DOE representatives posed a question to the tech people: "what qualities do you look for in a hire?" This elicited responses like hard working, able to work with others, able to communicate. The DOE person was proud to have made his point that these tech companies weren't looking for talent, advanced skills anything similar - grit was all you needed. I followed up - "and from what schools do you look for the kids with these qualities?" - MIT, Harvard, Cornell… and the tech people got it - they were already screening for the academic stuff so all that was left to look for were the other skills.

Should we look at grit? Certainly. Just remember that it's a piece of the puzzle just like everything else.

Using Emacs 36 - A Touch of Elisp

I've been working on a vue.js project this summer. During the school year I really can't dive into code so it's been fun.

I've already showed you most of the Emacs tools I use for development. Projectile, Ace-Window, IBuffer, Swiper / Ivy and all. One thing I couldn't easily do was arrange windows the way I wanted.

I've been setting up Emacs with one large window and a couple of smaller ones:

touch-elisp.png

I can easily switch the buffer in the window and I can easily switch windows but what I wanted to do was swap the buffer in the large window with one of the smaller buffers and leave focus in the larger buffer:

touch-elisp2.png

I started looking at perspective mode and persp mode but neither work with the latest Emacs. After poking around at other packages I realized that ace-window does most of what I wanted. Ace-window has a function that swaps the buffers in two windows named ace-swap-window. The only problem is that it leaves the focus on the window you swap to not the one you started in. Ace-window also has aw-flip-window which then returns the cursor to the previous window.

With a little elisp, we get the behavior I was looking for which I then bound to C-1 z:

(defun z/swap-windowsn ()
""
(interactive)
(ace-swap-window)
(aw-flip-window)
)

(define-key z-map (kbd "w") 'z/swap-windows)

The video goes into more details but it shows that if you're not afraid to explore a bit you can pretty much get Emacs to do whatever you want.

Thoughts on non educator influences on CS Education

Yesterday Mark Guzdial blogged about a NY Times piece discussing Silicon Valleys influence on education through Code.org.

Mark questioned the validity of the piece. If you don't read Mark's blog and you're in CS Ed you probably should.

I tried to leave a comment on Mark's blog - not about the NY Times article but rather my thoughts on why I think it's important that we remain wary and vigilant to industry and outsiders influence and impact on CS education and on education in general.

I don't know if my comment is sitting waiting for Mark to moderate or if I'm experiencing WordPress weirdness but since it hasn't shown up there, I thought I'd share it here:

While the article might not make a strong case it's important to be wary of outside influences on education policies.

I'm a fan of a lot of what code.org does but speaking about outsiders in general…

Bill Gates and Co. directly or indirecty gave us such delights like stack ranking teachers, improving, I mean evaluating, I mean firing teachers based on test scores of students they don't teach, more and more high stakes nonsense testing for kids, and at least in NY the destruction of neighborhood schools.

They've also pushed the current charter movement that, aided by misleading stats appear successful but in truth are no better and frequently worse than public schools while not sharing back a single "best practice."

Then we have private companies like the College Board and Pearson both of whom have an outsized influence on US Ed policy and curriculum.

I don't doubt the good intentions of code.org - as I said, I'm a fan. I am concerned when they and others take actions that can affect ed policy. I'm concerned when code.org representative pushes students to take an AP exam - not a great CS course with a great CS teacher but the actual exam. I'm even more concerned when code.org offers free PD when a school signs up for the PSAT8/9 - another high stakes meaningless test at taxpayer expense. For code.org it's a means to get more CS ed out there. To me it's setting up a new cash cow for the college board at my expense and at students expense.

I've seen many Ed Tech people, armed with the best intentions, enter the lions den – a school, district, or municipality only to see their best intentions corrupted in the name of cost cutting, profits, or politics.

Three strikes and you're out or third time's a charm

Brenda Wilkerson, Director of CS and IT education for Chicago public schools was one of the keynote speakers at this year's CSTA conference. During her talk, she made a comment about it taking three times through to get it right so if you're working hard and struggling in your first year of teaching CS, it's not the time to give up. Learning to teach takes time.

She's absolutely correct. I saw this in myself and I've seen this in many other young teachers. First year through, your job is to survive. This is when you rely on colleagues lesson plans, it you can you shadow another teacher and in general do your best to give what you can to your students while making it through the semester.

Then, I often see something interesting. Year two is frequently a step back. It was for me and I've seen this in many young teachers in many subject areas. I'm guessing this happens because we feel we have a year under our belt and then we overreach while trying to be innovative and more effective.

In year three things start to improve again and then, if the teacher continues to work at their craft, there's steady progress for years to come. At the point, the teachers seem to better understand how to experiment and grow as a teacher in a safer way while also understanding that it's OK to have a bad day or even a bad unit - there's usually time to recover.

It's also interesting that while this progression is most obvious in new teachers it also seems to take place with experienced teachers teaching new courses.

All this means that teaching CS or any new subject takes time, effort, and patience. It means young teachers shouldn't beat themselves up and that supervisors need to be supportive and give the time and resources to allow teachers to succeed.

It also means that schools with high teacher churn - notably charter chains create environments that are anything but conducive to allowing society to build a cadre of expert teachers. It works for these charter chains because they're exploiting the fact that they require a small number of teachers as compared to large urban public schools so can burn through teachers like gasoline and the fact that they're judged only by standardized tests. The model is not sustainable if privatizers get their wish and charters become the national norm.

Finally, it's another reason for people to wise up to "leadership" programs like Teach for America where candidates come in for a couple years before moving on to "better" opportunities.

So, if the third time's a charm, how about the flip side? After how long a period of time should we expect CS teachers to really know their subject area? I'd say three years is also probably right. Year one, the teacher is just surviving but after that, I'd expect a teacher to want to master their subject. When I taught math early on in my career, I felt overmatched. Particularly at Stuyvesant. I was a CS major, not a math major. What did I do? I sat in on colleagues classes and did self study over the summer. Of course by the time I got up to speed, at least to my standards, I was teaching compute science.

So, if you're a new CS teacher, why not take CS101 and data structures over the summer instead of doing another scripted PD? Between local and community colleges, at least in urban areas, this shouldn't be a problem.

So, is third time a charm? Three strikes and you're out? A bit of both?

We have to give our new CS teachers the time and support to learn to teach and to learn the subject area but at the same time, I think it's reasonable to require that they do so given the resources.

CS Ed advocates should pay attention to greater ed issues

For anyone involved in K12 CS education, the past few years have been a wild ride. When I first tried to make inroads in the DOE decades ago I couldn't get through the door. Now, CS Education is everyone's darling. It's really amazing. It's been a combination of grass roots efforts by teachers, non profit education efforts such as TEALS, advocacy of groups like Code.org and amazing individuals like Fred Wilson who has probably done more to move the needle of CS Ed in NY than any other 10 people combined.

While everyone agrees that to do CS education right at the K12 level we need great teachers and lots of them, everyone also knows that teachers voices are often unheard. The voices with the greatest weight belong to the large non-profits, principals, superintendents and local politicians.

Today's post is a plea to those with voices to think about the effects of their advocacy for CS Ed to the greater education landscape.

I started thinking about this recently as I've been developing the CS teacher certification programs for Hunter College. As I spoke to people across the nation I found that many of the efforts to developing teacher certification are what I call the "you take it you teach it" model. You take an abbreviated version of APCS-A and APCS-P and you're a certified CS teacher. Just about every real educator feels that this is ludicrous. Some feel that this can be a first step - get these credentials to get in the door and then you have three to five years to really learn your subject and craft. I'm good with that but I have a problem with anyone who says "you take it you teach it" is good enough and I've heard of a number of regions that are seriously considering it.

Why is this so bad and, I'd argue, dangerous? Not merely because we'll end up with substandard CS teachers for the foreseeable future but also because it undermines the teaching profession as a whole.

It's no secret that public education is under attack. A number of states including Wisconsin, Arizona, Oklahoma, New York and Michigan have considered relaxing the standards to become a teacher to address a teacher shortage. In their twisted logic, the politicians and "reformers" say that we can't find enough qualified teachers because we've made it an untenable career so let's lower standards. You can argue that any current state's requirements are overly cumbersome but that's another conversation.

When CS Educators say that all that's needed to teach CS is to sit in on a two week APCS institute is saying that to teach any subject you don't need content expertise. This is dangerous to education as a whole and when power players in the CS Ed movement don't speak up otherwise or even worse that the stance that "you take it you teach it" is OK, we're undermining teaching as a profession.

We need our heavy hitters to publicly and privately say that we need a short term entry into the profession but we absolutely need plans and pathways so that at the end of the day we have the best prepared teachers in our schools for CS and for all subjects.

Another issue is when as CS Educators we don't pay attention to the whole child. I was at a meeting of CSTA people from about thirty states a few years ago. Someone asked "how can we advocate for CS when the school might use it as an excuse to get rid of music?" Cameron Wilson, at the time a lobbyist for the ACM said something to the effect of "I'm not concerned with other subjects, my concern is getting CS into the schools." I get it, he was employed to stump CS but we have to remember that we're only a piece of the puzzle. We want a seat at the table but we have to make sure that the table is populated with everyone needed to provide a great education for our kids.

A final issue I'll mention here is how so many CS educators are so close to the College Board. It was very disturbing that so many CS Ed players were pushing for more students to take the APCS exam. Not the class, not some other CS class but the APCS exam. AP is an extremely controversial subject among teachers and many of us feel that too many kids take too many AP classes and certainly too many exams. Remember, the College Board is the organization that pushes things like the PSAT8/9 another meaningless but high stakes exam inflicted upon our kids at taxpayer expense. I understand that AP makes things easy - they have courses, curricula, etc. but we've given the college board an outsized influence on CS education and we're not paying attention to their outsized influence on education in general.

I'm just a small time teacher. I don't have a national voice. I'm urging those that do:

  • Look into what's going on in greater education. Look at the way public education has been under attack and why.
  • Look at the side affects of our choices - who we partner with and what policies we push.

We might not agree on the right path but everyone with a voice in CS Education should be having hard conversations about this and then strongly advocating for the positions they feel correct.

Observing CS Teachers

Another set of tweets god me thinking:

I get the intent. CS teachers should be evaluated by people who have some clue about the subject. Leigh Ann's reporting that some people are working on checklists got me wondering if it really matters? Sure, it matters if teacher observations were actually set up to improve instruction but given what we have in NY does it really?

In New York City, teacher observations are a major part of a teacher's annual rating and the other part is still that standardized test nonsense. Teachers are observed at least 4 and commonly 6 times or more per year. There might be pre and post observation conferences.

Sounds good but the system is amazingly flawed.

To start, the DOE uses the Danielson Framework which provides a basis for teacher evaluation. The framework is at best flawed with even Danielson coming out to say it's being misused. Of course I'm sure she protested all the way to the bank. A teacher can be a "Danielson style" teacher and be great but a teacher can also check all the Danielson boxes and be mediocre at best. Likewise, some of the best teachers I know break the Danielson mold and if a supervisor rigidly adheres to the framework these great teachers would be found ineffective.

To make matters worse, the rubric is so large that the DOE just focuses on small parts which means even if the framework was comprehensive and correct, teachers are only evaluated on a small part.

When a supervisor evaluates a teacher, they have a checklist with the rubric where they can rate a teacher 1 (ineffective), 2 (developing), 3 (effective), and 4 (highly effective) and write down some notes.

I guess the hope was to have some consistency but the truth is the process is very subjective. I know a supervisor who gave a teacher a ratings of 2 (which is basically failing) for the professional development category even though the teacher fulfilled all contractual obligations and then some. There are also supervisors who won't give a rating of 4 out of principle. On the other side, I've met supervisors loathe to give low scores.

The tweets at the top of this post refer to the current situation where CS teachers are never observed and evaluated by supervisors who are knowledgeable about CS. Even if someone designs a checklist - something I'm skeptical about given the fact that there are so few people strong in CS, experienced as teachers and with an eye for teacher evaluation out there, if the application of the Danielson framework is any indication, a CS checklist won't help.

Besides, CS won't be any different from any other subject. Since the destruction of the comprehensive neighborhood high school we've had a proliferation of small schools. Some people think that small schools are universally better. They're wrong. You need a mix. One of the problems with small schools is that you don't have subject area supervisors. You have a principal and an assistant principal. The result is that most teachers are evaluated by supervisors with no subject area expertise and no subject area pedagogical expertise.

The old system, even though it was also subject to abuses was much better - at least in the hands of a good supervisor. The observation system is inherently flawed. Observations are snapshots out of context and the mere presence of an observer changes the tone of the room. That said, if a supervisor knows the heartbeat of their school and has ongoing conversations with their staff, they can both ensure teachers are doing an honest job and also help them to improve.

The method of observation also doesn't have to be complicated. My first supervisor made it very simple. He said he looked for one basic thing - "was learning going on?" The conversation would then go from there.

Sometimes you have to look beyond the lesson. In my first year, I frequently observed a friend's history class. One day the class seemed to do very little. It seemed like all talk and play. I talked to the teacher about this. He said "that was what they needed today." He was a master and he was right. You might drop in on his class to see amazing instruction or you might come in and wonder why he wasn't fired long ago but at the end of the year when you looked at how much his kid learned and loved his class you realized that he was an amazing teacher. No rubric or framework needed. Just the eyeball test.

They also used to have more peer observations.They had to be coordinated by the department supervisor and he or she had to be in the loop but the peer observation model helped cross pollinate ideas in a department, build camaraderie and it also eased the workload of the supervisor.

To answer Alfred's question from his tweet, how do we help administrators help CS teachers? Get other teachers involved, keep an open mind and look at the big picture.

A friendly reminder to use the right language when describing CS

I was part of this conversation the other day:

I always use that line to emphasize that I teach CS - a way of thinking and problem solving and looking at the world. The languages we use in our classes are tools to help us communicate ideas not the ends but rather a means.

I've spent the past couple of days at the CSTA conference. It's been a lot of fun. I've been spending the time with old friends and meeting new ones and as everyone who knows me knows - I love talking shop.

I overheard a conversation today. One CS teacher describing what they did to a few others. I overheard:

We teach Scratch then Swift and C++ and also teach Python

I heard statements like this describing programs more than a couple of times. I know we're at a conference of CS Educators but even in this community we have everything from beginners getting their feet wet to hardcore computer scientists to everything in between.

We shouldn't be teaching languages as an ends unto themselves and the majority of us don't.

What many of us do, though, is take the easy path and use the name of a programming language to describe what we do rather than really define what we do. This is why we hear "I teach Java" or "I teach a class in Swift" even when the teacher teaching Java might really be teaching Object Oriented program design and development or data structures or something similar just using Java as the language or tool.

I too fall into this trap but I try to catch myself. I try not to say "I teach Scheme" but rather I'll say "I teach Scheme. Actually, we're studying functional programming using Scheme as the language but for convenience, I'll just say Scheme for the rest of this talk…."

The words we use to describe our field set the tone. If we're sloppy and say "we teach Java," it's just like biology teacher saying "I teach microscope."

As we try to define our field in the K12 space and seek equal footing with established subject areas it's important that we use the right language so that other educators and policy makers don't get the wrong idea.

Self Certification - not a good idea

You've probably seen an image like this:

self-signed.png

It's what you see when you try to access a secure web site but the web site itself certified itself as being secure.

When people see this on a professional site it sets off all manner of red flags. We feel much more comfortable when go to a site and we don't see that error. When we see the secure green lock in the url bar indicating that this site is certified through an external trusted source.

Let's take this a step further. If you needed surgery would you go to a board certified surgeon or would you go to Dr. Nick Riviera or some other "self certified" doctor? Likewise you wouldn't want to be represented in court by someone who hasn't passed the bar.

We might not feel that these certification and licensing processes are perfect but when we need the services of a doctor or lawyer, we're happy these gatekeepers exist.

So we should all be extremely concerned with today's announcement that the deal for mayoral control just brokered in NYC came with strings attached and one of those strings looks to open the doors to give some charter chains the ability to self certify their teachers.

Here's a story on it in Politico and one in Chalkbeat.

One might think that some requirements to become a teacher are ridiculous. I'll get to them later but this is really giving the fox the keys to the henhouse.

Charters appear to have extremely high rates of teacher attrition so it makes sense that they want to control their teacher pipeline. This alone should be a red flag against self certification but what else are charter chains known for?

  • Misleading stats - claiming amazing passing numbers on standardized exams while neglecting to mention that somehow or other big blocks of students were removed from the school prior to the test year (link).
  • The gotta go list
  • Forcing high levels of parent involvement (tough for single working parents)
  • Charging illegal fees.

Top this off with as taking resources from public schools.

Charters operate in anything but a transparent manner and we're expected to trust them to prepare "highly effective" teachers? I don't think so. Since there is no real accountability for charter schools - they can easily game the system through student attrition, selective admissions (by putting up barriers to enter the lottery) and test prep they can pay lip service to teacher preparation and the public will be none the wiser.

If we had a reasonable way of holding principals accountable and no, test scores are not the answer then we could pretty much do away with teacher certification. If principals were held to task to run an effective school, something we can easily define but not measure, then they would have every incentive to hire the best teachers. Unfortunately we're nowhere near that place.

Since we're not, we're left with the current systems of teacher certification that has it's own slew of problems. A big part of it, in my opinion is that schools of education have lost the high ground. While there are some institutions doing great work, reputation wise, schools of education are held in very low regard. Strong teachers trade stories of the watered down content classes and waste of time classes where professors share their pet theories of education. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the new definitive way to teach. At the same time, education research is frequently held in low regard by teachers and the general public.

On the one hand we have charters run by and support by non-educators wanting us to trust them and on the other we have institutions that are questioned by the teachers they produce and the general public.

What a mess.

I don't know the answer. I'm working on teacher certifications programs at Hunter and it's a balancing act. How much content is sufficient and how much is too much. Can any of the general content be streamlined or is it all necessary. If it isn't necessary do we need it anyway to satisfy the bean counters?

If you don't have enough then we're sending unprepared teachers into the classroom. Too much and we'll drive potential teachers away.

As computer science education is defining itself we see similar struggles. We have some people advocating certifications analogous to existing teacher certifications. On the other extreme we have advocates for two weeks summer training and you're a CS teacher. I'd like to think that I'm advocating for the sweet spot. Strong content knowledge not tied to a specific course and matching content related pedagogy. Time will tell becomes the certification standard and time will tell whose approach was right.

For now, it's important not to give away the store. Private charter schools should not be the driving force behind teacher certification and they certainly shouldn't be allowed to train their own teachers and then 'teach' our students without much greater scrutiny.

Addendum:

I'm sure some of my friends will point out that private schools aren't held to any particular standard for teacher certification. This is true but private schools don't take public funds. Actually they do but in my opinion, they shouldn't. I maintain that charter schools are publicly funded private schools in that they take public money but operate as private entities. As such they should be held under the greatest of scrutiny and standards – they aren't




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