Sunday, January 31, 2016

Why Are NC Politicians So Reluctant to Raise Teacher? They’ve Been Listening to Frederick Taylor Too Long

"The writer has great sympathy with those who are overworked, but on the whole a greater sympathy for those who are under paid. For every individual, however, who is overworked, there are a hundred who intentionally underwork---greatly underwork---every day of their lives, and who for this reason deliberately aid in establishing those conditions which in the end, inevitably result in low wages." Frederick Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management

Could it be that at the heart of the reluctance by North Carolina political leaders to provide raises to teachers is the Taylorist belief that “most teachers are lazy, therefore, none of them deserve a raise?" In his Principles of Scientific Management, Frederick Taylor made it clear that he believed that workers are inherently lazy and will seek to do least amount of work they can. There can be no doubt that Taylor’s Principles have been and consistently are applied to education, but this stubborn reluctance on the part of our state political leaders seems to defy logic at times, unless your logic happens to be based on Taylorist principles. That logic goes: “Because most teachers are lazy, we only want to reward the few who aren’t."

Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management, though written a little over a hundred years ago are still bedrock thinking in business and I would contend much of our schools and their operations. Since our legislative leaders see the application of the business and corporate model to everything as the ultimate answer, it only stands to reason is that the last thing they want to do is give those “lazy teachers a raise.” Instead of finding ways to improve North Carolina teacher pay , they continually look for ways to reward “good” teachers.

The problem becomes though how do you define “good” teachers? If you follow Taylorist principles to the maximum, you must rely on science to identify those “good teachers.” In our American Taylorist education system, the only measure of a “good teacher” often perceived to be “scientific” is a test score. A merit pay system where pay is based on test scores is usually the option explored, because, after all, the job of teachers is to produce student achievement, and test scores are an accetable proxy for student achievement. But most psychometricians and educators who know education, know this to be incorrect. Tests just are incapable of capturing all worthwhile learning, and they are impossible instruments to measure achievement in the arts and performance-based disciplines. If you make the product for which teachers are rewarded test scores, then anything that can’t be tested or is not tested automatically becomes irrelevant.
So then how do you reward “good teachers?” Some of our politicians talk about rewarding teachers who work in science and math, and other hard to fill areas with more pay. Additionally, they want to pay more to teachers who take on additional responsibilities. Certainly, it is understandable to try to find ways to fill those math and science positions, as it is also understandable to try to find ways to reward teachers who take on additional responsibilities. But by focusing only those in hard-to-fill areas, aren't they saying that only teachers in math and science are “good teachers?” “Good teachers” are not just those who teach in areas deemed “highly-valued” by the current regime. To reward only those teachers immediately subjugates English teachers, foreign language teachers, kindergarten teachers, and guidance counselors. They are not seen as valuable. Our cultural richness exists because the arts are valued, literature is valued, film is valued. Like a good Taylorist though, our political leaders and even education leaders want to subjugate every aspect of education in the pursuit of economic dominance anyway.

As far as rewarding teachers for taking on additional responsibilities, what about the hard and difficult job that these teachers already do? The idea of rewarding additional responsibilities is so wrought with the stench of Taylorist thinking, that it should be discarded immediately. It communicates to all teachers that they do not deserve a raise. It tells them they are not working hard enough. It tells them that they currently do not earn the salaries they currently receive.

In the end, our state political leaders don’t really think our educators in this state work hard. There are certainly lazy educators, just like there are lazy legislators, governors, and business men, even CEOs. Lazy leadership is relying on belief without going out and gathering the facts before making decisions, and that’s what these merit pay ideas demonstrate. Our political leaders need to perhaps spend some time in the shoes of a kindergarten teacher or of a urban school principal. They perhaps they can make the correct decisions about educator pay.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Micro-Credentialing: Potential New Professional Development System or Fad?

Last evening, while participating in an #NCED Chat, I encountered a new idea for professional development called “micro-credentialing.” To be honest, I had seen the term, but had paid little attention to it until this Twitter chat. I think perhaps my understanding of “Micro-credentialing” was a bit mistaken at first, because I thought it was simply a system of using “badges” to reward teachers for the various kinds of training they do, very similar to what the boyscouts do. From my own experience and reading, such a carrot and sticks approach to professional learning set all kinds of alarm bells to ringing. But after reading about it a bit more, it looks to me more like a new system to deliver “professional development” to teachers.

According to my understanding now, the so-called “merit-badges” are incidental to the practice of trying to find ways to “certify” the skills which teachers have obtained, and they are not carrots to be dangled in front of educators to get them to engage in personal professional development. My understanding of “micro-credentialing” is that it is simply a system of delivering educator skill training in a more personalized manner. I think any attempts to modify professional learning in a more personal manner is laudable, since so many times, the sit-and-get trainings too often do not address personal needs. Despite the promise of “Micro-credentialing,” its ability to cross over into sustainable practice, there are some larger questions that have to be answered and problems that will need to be addressed.

First of all, credentials of any kind have to “mean something” to the practicing community, or have “value." To mean something those skills credentialed have to have value in the profession. For example, simply having a merit badge that indicates you’ve mastered a teacher skill like “wait-time” or “Grit and Reseillance,” as I found in one micro-credentialing system, must have some kind of acknowledgement from the profession that it is meaningful. If a teacher has earned a “badge” then the profession must look upon it as important and something to valued. It is this hurdle that might prove most difficult to any micro-credentialing system. Somehow, those distributing the credentials have to convince the profession and all those within it, that those credentials are valuable and really do mean something, and it is going to take more than quoting research to make that happen. The teaching profession is a social entity with its own rules for determining what has value and what has not, and which discourse is accepted and which is not. Just declaring that a badge has meaning by decree because it is backed up by research isn’t necessarily going to make it meaningful or give it value. This can be especially problematic because most educational research can be contradictory about the values of some of these skills. For example, one study may support the importance of that skill, and another study may lessen its importance. So much of what is declared effective in education is often subject to contradiction at times, so simply trying to validate micro-credentials with research isn’t always necessarily going to work. In the end, for this new way of delivering professional development to have value and meaning, the profession, not state level or federal government levels are going to determine its validity.

Secondly, if “micro-credentialing” gets too cozy with for-profit business, it could take on the same mistrust that education professional often still have for “for-profit” learning in general. My online reading about the micro-credentialing area seems to be tied to possible business ventures.There are centainly concerns about this. Business ventures in micro-credentialing would only succeed if as many people as possible earn the credentials, which means, it is not in their interest to prevent individuals from obtaining the micro-credentials, even if they haven’t quite met demonstration requirements. If they make the process too rigorous, profits will be smaller, making the whole enterprise not sustainable from an economic perspective. Because of this intense need for profit, these micro-credentialing business ventures could potentially become a “Micro-credentialing mills,” where payment equals badge. If that happens, the educational professional community will hardly see these credentials as being valuable and meaningful. In my estimation, because of this, the success of “micro-credentialing” will rely on colleges and universities leading the way, with practicing professionals being part of the process of development, introduction, and implementation.

Finally, for these “micro-credentials” to have credibility, careful attention will need to be focused on the credentialing process itself. For example, if obtaining the micro-credential involves demonstration artifacts, these artifacts must be complex enough to capture the skill being credentialed, and they must be perceived not as just a “hurdle to jump” or “check-box” to check. They must be authentic. They must be representative of the skill learned. But the reverse side is that developing the artifact must certainly be attainable with all of the other demands that teachers and educators have. The problem with most current professional learning, if demonstrations are required as a part of the process, they are perceived as hoops to jump through to obtain the credit. Once the credit is obtained, the learner never applies that learning again. Giving micro-credentials can give those who obtain them the false sense that I have learned that skill entirely. Most educator skills are much more complex, so that even if one understands it in one context, they may not be able to apply in other instances.

Micro-credentialing does offer an interesting system of providing individualized professional learning for educators. Unless its implementation considers these pitfalls and many others that befall educational programming, it could also be just another gimmick and fad. In the end, it is perhaps those who earn the micro-credential who will determine the fate of this idea. Those who have the credentials must genuinely be able to demonstrate those skills consistently in the live environment of the classroom. For example because I once learned how to tie four kinds of rope knots, does not mean that I can do it indefinitely, and in the midst of a raging storm. Credentials only mean something when they impact practice daily.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Philosophical Ramblings About Getting an EdD Degree

In 2013, I embarked on a journey. I began working on my EdD degree in educational leadership. There are many reasons why one would take on such a monumental task. Some do so for career advancement, and others do so for career changes. My reasons for doing so have been a bit more complex, often including many of these, but they have actually changed over time. Personally, I have treasured the intellectual challenge it has brought me. Many would perhaps argue that doctoral degrees should have an immediate practical application, but I would disagree; it should disturb us profoundly. I would argue that my experience of doctoral education has forced me to re-examine everything I believed to be true about myself as an educator and human being. It has in many ways placed everything I held to be true about the educational field in question. To me that is the practical application of my doctoral education.I now savor more than ever the intellectual side of our enterprise as public educators. I enjoy questioning myself and the entire discipline of education, and I have had some of my beliefs about education reinforced. I’ve had many of my beliefs placed in doubt, and I have formulated some new beliefs based on all that I’ve learned and read. But even these new beliefs are subject to change as experience, reading, and thought changes. That’s where my disturbance lies: everything for me is tentative.
Ultimately, doctoral education has changed my work. Principals can get into “automatic-pilot-mode” where they simply make decisions and deal with issues, hardly ever taking time to examine deeper issues and problems. Obviously, when crisis decisions arise, there’s little time to analyze and engage in deeper thinking, but those everyday decisions we make, such as how to address a disciplinary issue, or how to make suggested improvements to a colleague, do allow for time to think and analyze rather than following a script. That’s the practical application of much of my reading, writing and intellectual thought fostered by my doctoral work. I practically every day find myself looking to the deeper side of what I do and that makes for some amazing reflection.
Doctoral work is rewarding. It becomes particularly rewarding if it disturbs your own beliefs and thoughts about education and life, as mine has done. I became an English teacher years ago because I treasured the engagement of my own intellect with reading and writing. Literature that is worth its weight does that: it engages the intellect and leaves you disturbed. Just reading and writing inside your comfort zone hardly leads to intellectual growth. I that is one big practical application of my doctoral program studies. I am disturbed (not mentally mind you, though some would perhaps disagree) and will probably remain so for the rest of my life. The disturbance I feel is simply the realization that perhaps I did not have all this figured out after all, nor will I ever. Those who realize this, I contend, are perhaps better educators. There are far too many education reformers, educators, policymakers, politicians, corporate leaders who think they have figured it out. They haven’t.
Knowledge is liberating in many ways, and it can liberate you as well from thinking you know for sure how to teach, or how to lead, which means you’re more free and open to creativity and innovation. Pursuit of education is perhaps liberation in more ways than we think.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Tribute to Joe Bower and His ‘Love of Learning’

I’ve been disconnected for a bit due to the demands of being a school administrator and as a student working on my on education, so that explains why I missed the passing of one of the most passionate educators I’ve met online, Joe Bower. For those of you who didn’t know Joe Bower, he is the author of the blog For the Love of Learning, and was an advocate for transforming schools into places where real learning happens instead of the focus on grades and testing that so currently preoccupies educators, politicians, and policymakers. He and I connected on a number of occasions through Twitter on issues of authentically assessing what students know rather than “bubble-sheeting” them to boredom.

Joe Bower and I never physically met, but through the power of social media and the Internet, we met and connected on several occasions, and it was clear that I met a true advocate for changing education in ways that make it better for children. His ideas concerning doing away with grading and testing and focusing on providing students with opportunities to show exactly what they could do fits so well with my own thinking about teaching and learning. His voice in this area will be missed. I encourage all educators to visit his blog Love of Learning and experience his ideas for making education better in the 21st century. Joe Bower the advocate for children and for authentic education will be missed. He truly loved learning and shared that with all of us.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

NC Lt. Governor Nixes State Charter School Report Because It’s Too Negative and He Doesn’t Like It

What happens in North Carolina when a state politician does not like what’s in a report on charter schools? They change it. Our own Lt. Governor Dan Forest recently did not like what was in a legislated report on charter schools in the state because “It did not have a lot of positive things to say.”

Well, Mr. Forest, sometimes the truth hurts! Mr. Forest’s actions clearly illustrate what political leaders in North Carolina currently do when they don’t like truth and reality: they seek to re-write it so that it says what they think it should say. Forest says, “He just wants to make sure charter schools get a fair shake.” I only wish he would say the same about public schools, but then again, we know where our current state political leadership stands regarding public schools; just look at the mess they’ve made of our state’s education. Just a reminder, this is the same individual who proposed taking up donations to fund teacher pay increases. What is one to think when people like this have any say in our public education system!

Check out “State Board Delays Vote on Charter School Report,Approves Policy Change” from WRAL TV.