Wednesday, July 9, 2008

In Defense of Data

Alex Russo at "This Week in Education" comments today on Teach For America as seen in Donna Foote's book Relentless Pursuit.
"The organization micromanages them instead of supporting or encouraging them, implements an obviously unhelpful scripted mentoring system that is -- along with many other things -- "quietly shelved" before the next year, and pressures teachers to conform to a cockamamie accountability system based on irregular, self-reported, unverified achievement data. Talk about juking the numbers."
The critical comments in the book are valid and are ones that folks at all levels of the organization are working to address. As noted, the 2006 teacher training system was replaced when another, superior version was developed. This happens when a self-critical, ever-evolving organization seeks to improve. Not upgrading a system – as is the case in some, more traditional teacher training programs – is surely a dereliction of duty to student learning.Teach For America’s model, which focuses on student achievement, is always going to be constantly evolving; that’s, in part, why it’s so great. When I look at the teacher training model, the most compelling piece is that it is directly linked to student achievement data. Data detailing 1) how the applicant measures up on the admission rubric, 2) how he is trained at Institute, and 3) how he is supported while in the classroom, can be regressed against how his students achieve on a year-over-year basis. With nearly 4,000 points of reference, Teach For America seems poised to become a very valuable laboratory for perfecting how we train teachers. I predict that as soon as traditional colleges of education see the results of Teach For America’s internal studies, they will begin to rely on the organization to give them the proven best practices for training teachers to positively affect student achievement.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Nice Day in Dupont

Tom and I were walking up Connecticut Ave., NW, from Dupont Circle yesterday afternoon and bumped into Leslie on her way back to San Francisco. 

She had been staying with me for a great 4th of July weekend.

Here is a cute pic of the adventure!


Start your career a year earlier?

I saw this posted on the Metro and wondered, really, why would you possibly want to start your career a year earlier? 

Then, I realized, that there are, in fact, plenty of good reasons to start a career ASAP: kids, debt, ambition.  In fact, the reason that I (and many like me, I'd imagine), can't fathom rushing through college is that the "undergraduate experience" (ie everything outside of the classroom) was the most meaningful part of college.

This then brings to mind the recent findings of the Spellings Commission on higher education quality.  The Commission asserts that many universities - particularly the large public and prestigious private variety that so many of my ilk attended - are failing to institute accounatability metrics of any form.  The report also commends for-profit universities (University of Pheonix, etc.) and community colleges for creating student-acheivement-focused metrics, setting ambitious goals, and for openly tracking and reporting progress toward these goals. 

When a friend first told me about the report, I was blown away by how right the findings were.  I remember at Duke there are two types of metrics by which professors are held accountable - 1) personal productivity (books published, grants received, etc.), and 2) popularity among students.  These metrics, of course, serve to de-emphasize teaching and academic achievement and might, in turn, take the focus of the university away from creating great graduates.

Of course, universities like mine still do create great alumni, but without proper accountability systems, there is no way to tell if that's just luck or how it could be better.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

They Make Us Better (Spain Wins!)

Walking through Washington's Dupont Circle, I saw a very un-DC thing: a widespread, eccentric, public celebration. In a town known for its stodginess and conservative ways (pleated khakis are still very much in in our nation's capital), the spontaneous celebration was a much needed respite.

So, what was the occasion?

The Spanish soccer team won the 2008 European Championship soccer finals, of course. And the celebrants? Part of our large and growing international community. Some of the greatest joys of living here have come from this community - they really do make us better.

Here is a quick video I snapped on the Mino: