Monday, October 27, 2014

What fresh hell is this?*

*Dorothy Parker. Amusingly, the reaction, verbatium, of a number of people in response to the state's proposals around teacher licensure. 

When we last left you, we were heading into several sessions in which limited numbers of teachers could, if they pre-registered and filled out a profile, give very targeted feedback on the state's teacher licensure proposal. I have since received numerous communcations (of various kinds) about what happened in Worcester and in Boston, for which I am abundantly grateful. With the various (generally anonymous) notetakers' permission, I am pulling together here what they sent me, along with a bit more that I've discovered since.
Massachusetts is one of seven states (the others are Louisiana, Idaho, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, and Washington) doing this project on teacher licensure; together those states form the Network for Transforming Educator Preparation (NTEP, because it doesn't count unless it has an acronym). It is being paid for by a grant from the Council of Chief State School Officers, who wrote a report on teacher prepartion back in 2012, as well as through Race to the Top funds. The grant is $100,000 for two years.
The proposal, note, has been pulled together by the Keystone Center, who appear to have been subcontracted to do it by The New Teacher Project (which, yes, is an organization that was started by Michelle Rhee; is that why they seem to be going by their initials these days?). From the state's report on this
DESE asked TNTP to conduct research and assess available information to support the development, testing and refining of key elements of a performance-based system for licensure. DESE identified the need to engage with stakeholders as a key component of this work. TNTP engaged The Keystone Center (Keystone) 4 to work with DESE and TNTP to design and facilitate a process of engaging stakeholders to ensure the perspectives and experiences of Massachusetts educators inform this effort.
Does it strike anyone else as odd that the state feels it needs to subcontract out talking to teachers on a project about teacher licensure?
The report states that "over 300 educators" were involved in the initial effort to discover what was thought about current licensure requirements. Who were they? Check footnote 5 at the bottom of page 3:
A total of 322 stakeholders contributed input via formal focus groups convened by Keystone (169 individuals) or DESE (20), the electronic questionnaire (39), a meeting convened by Teach Plus(66), and internal DESE focus groups(28).
You can get a list of the roles of those who attended in Appendix F of that same report; if you take all of the "teachers and principals" categories and assume that they are all teachers, you still get fewer than 100 teachers asked.
The concern, it appears, is that current licensure is "not meaningful" and "focuses on inputs and prescriptive requirement." Thus the state is determined to do something about this by Spring of 2015. They're proposed new pathways (which, among other things, are tied to student performance, in which it appears we'd be following Idaho) to licensure, renewal, and then system leadership, by which, so it was said, teachers could "add value" in the "District Based Marketplace." 

So, about those sessions!
I know that teachers were put off by a) the pre-registration, b) the questionnaire you received after registering, c) the combinations of people in the room (it's a bit intimidating to say what you think if your principal or another administrator who may well hold some power over your job is there, listening), and d) the tightly strictured conversation, in which only responding to the proposal was allowed. Kudos to the teachers who started right away with asking questions (as they did in both Worcester and Boston) during the initial presentation (from which the above is pulled).
Once that had been reviewed, those in attendance could respond to proposals from by hand-held devices. Based on notes taken at the meeting, here are the results from Worcester:

... 50% of the people were teachers, 28% principals, 6% primary support people (guidance counselors, nurses, etc).
 1.  To enter the profession, teacher and principal candidates will have strong knowledge of content, demonstrated classroom skills and ability to advance student learning, and the skills and disposition required to meet the needs of Massachusetts students to ensure our students are ready for success after high school.
33% strongly support
17% support
17% could with change
33% can’t support fundamentally flawed

2.  To continue in the profession, educators will show evidence that they have made an impact on student learning, evidence of strong knowledge of what they teach and demonstrated pedagogical competency to deliver content. The requirements for advancement and renewal will support the continuous growth of educators.
20% Strongly support
0% Support
20 could support with some change
60% strongly oppose, fundamentally flawed 
3 voters abstained

3.  The licensure process will permit knowledgeable, talented, and dedicated aspiring leaders (teachers and administrative system leaders) the opportunity to make a positive impact on Massachusetts students. The process will add value and create advancement and pathway opportunities for aspiring leaders (teachers, school and system leaders). As professionals continue in the licensure process, the requirements for advancement will support the continuous growth of educators.
13% strong
12% support
7% neutral
67% can’t support it, fundamentally flawed

4.  To ensure an accessible process for all that helps to get effective teachers and principals in classrooms, schools and school systems across the Commonwealth, licensure needs to be efficient and utilize resources effectively. The system must be sustainable and allow flexibility to meet and adapt to changing conditions in the profession and across the Commonwealth. 
25% strongly support
13% support
13% could with specific changes
50% can’t support, fundamentally flawed
While I do not have this level of specific notes from Boston, my impression is that results were similar.
Finally, those attending were broken out into groups with a Keystone facilitator and a notetaker. Again, note that discussion was not free; participants could bring up "pros, cons, problems, and solutions."
Specific points raised that I haven't heard elsewhere:

  • The gap in the number of teachers of color we have, and concerns over this making it more difficult to get a more representative teaching population. 
  • (including but beyond) This being a very "privileged" road to teaching.
  • Young teachers burning out over state requirements (already) and this making it that much more difficult. 
  • The connection of outside of school markers (grit, perserverance) to in school performance.
  • Inclusion of student performance into teacher licensure (despite ongoing problems with student growth or value added formulas, and despite the inappropriateness of this inclusion).
  • Renewal of licensese being even more often and thus that much more expensive and time consuming
  • The utter disconnect between actual issues in teacher licensure and renewal and the state's proposals.
  • The state's refusal to respond to questions or concerns either together or individually.
While there are still two forums left (11/19 and 11/20 in Malden and Bridgewater, respectively), the state says that these are full. They do also say this:
DESE will also conduct discussions with role- and specialty-specific focus groups, and will reach out to educators in the coming weeks about those meetings.Participants will be asked to share their thoughts on the pros and cons of multiple policy options that could advance those guiding principles for a new system of licensure. For more information about these specialty-specific focus groups in the meantime, please contact Brandy Fluker Oakley
I would also recommend passing along concerns to state and local officials of all types.

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