Learning Matters

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Ian Jukes: Learning in the New Digital Landscape

TTWWADI: That's the way we've always done it. It's a fact of life, even outside of schools. Ian Jukes begins with an extended anecdote connecting the space shuttle to Roman war chariots. I won't go into further detail because I can't do it justice. However, he also points out that in 1935 the school year in the United States was similar to today's 180 days and was the longest in the developed world. Today, it is the shortest in the developed world. Why do we have an extended summer vacation? Is it research based? No, it is TTWWADI. See also Foss's poem, "The Calf Path."

Digital kids in the New Digital Landscape. A key theme of this presentation is that the digital life children experience today provides digital learning experiences (almost always separate from the formal education experience) that result in different patterns of cognitive development than "digital immigrants" from older generations might have. Jukes says that greater visual memory is one possible result. He cites research I am not familiar with that includes fMRI studies showing slightly different patterns of activation between digital natives and digital immigrants.

Ian Jukes recommends Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You (noted in his last session) and Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind : Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

Gaming is a major aspect of many students' experiences. Will digital kids have spent more time by 21 years of age gaming than reading books or sitting in class? And what are the implications? For society? For schools? For our children?

Jukes reminds us of the value of useful failure, practice, and repeated feedback in the learning process. Are these more present in traditional forms of instruction or in games. He references the The impact of media and technology in schools: A research report prepared for The Bertelsmann Foundation, a study from the late 1990's. One of the findings was that while traditional instruction and technology/media infused instruction might have similar initial results on achievement tests, retesting one year later indicated that most of the content delivered via a traditional model was not retained, but that most of the content delivered using media and technology infused instruction was. It's not the case that basic skills and integrated project based learning are mutually exclusive.

Jukes closed by reminding everyone that aligning instructional practices with the needs of digital natives should matter to all of us. Children may be 20% of the population, but they are 100% of our future. No matter how attached we are to the past, real or imagined, we should recognized that schools the way they used to be may not be effective in preparing students for the world to come. The last metaphor Jukes leaves us with is the comparison of how a blue whale turns (hint, slowly over a long stretch) vs. a large school of sardines (fast, tight radius). It happens because a few individuals in the school shift in a new direction, creating some dissonance until the school turns. He notes, hopefully, that we have seen social changes toward tobacco in a generation or two. The Berlin Wall fell suddenly.

He quoted Hellen Keller, noting that the only thing worse than not being able to see is being able to see and having no vision.

Change, Jukes reminds, is possible. But who, when, and where?

Ian Jukes on New Visions for Teaching and Learning

Ian Jukes is a busy man today, working hard for his money. In addition to two keynotes, he is offering a sectional presentation too. It's a big sectional, held in a lecture hall where Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know is usually broadcast from.

New Visions for Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century, is also on his website. Ian Jukes introduced the focus as how we can help our students be digitally literate with 21st Century Skills and meet traditional academic expectations at the same time. Starting metaphor is learning as a seven layer dip: content, process, tools, school to career (the skills to be successful in the workplace are different from those in school and higher ed), community, home (the most important factor in student success), assessment (quantitative and qualitative, summative and formative).

Today, Jukes notes, academic and performance assessment is central to the learning process. But will traditional forms of instruction support student learning that can be retained and exhibited on a form of assessments by our students? Can we in a structured manner teach process skills and critical thinking. Jukes offers up the example of a classroom learning project of an exotic pet store where they can learn science content, math content, language arts content, etc., but in the context of career and life skills and applied tools. Call it embedded instruction, project based learning, integrated units, woven instruction, killing two or multiple birds with a single stone, it is key approach. But are we, collectively, in education prepared to do this as the rule and not the exception? We know that learning by doing keeps well, and there is value in the doing. The real life connections also offer opportunities to engage parents and other community members in the learning process, which is a benefit to the students and also the school institution. Jukes provides another example of an integrative activity, the tattoo artist, that incorporates science, math, language, ethics, and workplace skills.

Now, this more demanding in terms of preparation than teaching out of a textbook or prepackaged curriculum if it is to be done well. Professional development, collaboration, and planning time are indispensable, even with a good list of borrowed resources to use as templates. Ian Jukes closed by highlighting three useful resources, including the George Lucas Educational Foundation, which has very extensive resources for educators on research, projects, and instructional modules. Edutopia also has print and electronic publications available free. I subscribe to these had they are indeed high quality, and the price is right.

As he came to the end, Jukes recommended several books for further reading. These were Ted McCain's Teaching for Tomorrow, Donna Walker Tileston's What Every Teacher Should Know: The 10 Book Collection, Mike Schmoker's Results: The Key to Continuous School Improvement, Wiggins and McTighe's Understanding by Design, Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter, and Sheryl Feinstein's Secrets of the Teenage Brain.

Great one hour download! Never miss an opportunity to see Jukes if it presents itself.

Ian Jukes on Change

The last two days I have been attending a conference on closing the achievement gap sponsored by our state education agency. It has been a strong conference so far and I have been impressed by the state's succcess in planning the conference.

Today, we have Ian Jukes delivering keynotes at both ends of the day. He is also conducting a sectional. It has been quite some time since I've posted, so I'm going to try liveblogging Jukes. Ian Jukes has the notes to this presentation available online here.

I have seen Jukes before and read some fo his writing. He is an engaging speaker and is a good anchor when you want to help an audience consider things outside the proverbial "box." Early in the presentation, Jukes is highlighting four exponential trends. The first is Moore's Law, the observation that computing power doubles every 18 months or so. The second trend is the law of the photon, which is the rapidly increasing bandwidth trend. Jukes points out the 2400 baud modems were pretty good in the mid to late 1980's, but residences now have DSL, and the industry is rapidly increasing in the ability to pack wavelengths into fiberoptics and that we are quickly ascending the staircase from gigabit to 10 gig to 100 gig and beyond. Coupled with the exponential increase in wired speed, wireless bandwidth is rapidly increasing in capacity, with huge impacts on portability and ubiquity. An important impact of the the bandwidth revolution is how it facilitates globalization of economic activity. To the extent that work can be done at a distance, and that is an increasingly large segment of economic activity, jobs can be located anywhere. This is an important takeaway for those in the audience that haven't considered this before. If you are an American with marginal, or submarginal, employability, geography cannot be counted upon to help you acquire a job. Also, the Internet provides many new methods for communication that out students embrace more rapidly than we are doing.

His fourth trend was InfoWhelm. One point he suggests is that technical knowledge is somewhat less valuable because it is changing and growing so rapidly. Personally, I am optimistic that collaborative practices like blogs and wikis can help us filter InfoWhelm into a manageable understanding of the world we chose to live in.

Friday, June 24, 2005

GLS 1.0 Day Two

Day Two started off with a presentation by a team from PARC on utilizing the potential data gathering opportunities in virtual environments. I had not considered the research opportunities virtual gaming environments present, but it is possible to capture extensive data for quantitative and qualitative analysis. After a brief presentation, the facilitators passed out DVD's with captured video from a game session of "Star Wars Galaxy" and some log and other data files. My table was overwhelmed with the amount of data and struggled to filter out the noise of in game merchant marketing and the behavior of AFK (away from keyboard) avatars. However, an adjacent table demonstrated greater proficiency and were able to analyze how much of the game dialogue were ads, analyzed the content of the ads, and compared the prevalence of the word "please" vs. average usage. I'm impressed by the potential to study decision making and social interaction in virtual games and need to consider whether the potential exists to develop predictive simulations. We just need to match questions to gaming environments appropriately.

For the second session, I am in a session on simulating schooling with Kurt Squire and Levi Giovanetto presenting on Civ III's Apolyton University (where hardcore Civ players go to advance their knowledge) as an educational institution, followed by Rich Halverson on "Games for Leadership, Leadership for Games."

Apolyton is a user community on the Civ website where virtual courses are organize

Thursday, June 23, 2005

At GLS 1.0

The end of the school year was very hectic. It always is, but we have some major construction projects underway and a major end of school year data retreat that were big draws on time.

But today I'm at GLS 1.0, the first year of the Games + Learning + Society Conference sponsored by the Academic Co-Lab and UW-Madison's School of Education. Games and learning is an increasingly high profile intersection for research and application in education. Reading the business press, I see reporting that the popularity of games is eroding the market share of traditional entertainment forms of television and movies in the youth and young adult market.

For schools, the rise of gaming is relevant both as the emergence of a powerful tool for learning, but also as a competitor attractor for the attention and time of our students. The dominant strand that I have seen in the research literature so far places games as an instructional tool in a blended learning environment facilitated by an instructor. Later this morning, I'll attend a session where Marc Prensky from Games2Train that will explore whether games can replace teachers in certain areas. I'm a skeptic, but as an educator I come to the topic with a pre-existing stance. But now, I am listening to a presentation by designers from Muzzy Lane on how to design and manage gaming systems within a classroom. Their platform allows for content creation, feedback, assessment, and tracking.

As a thirty-something technology director who is not much of a gamer, it is becoming apparent to me that I am behind the curve on games. I had been looking at games (not Oregon Trail type games, but these very rich multi-player games with capability to customize) as something to focus on in the medium term. In talking with my student interns this month, though, it's clear that they see games as central and very NOW in the digital lives of their peers and themselves. So over the next two days, I'll start to scale the learning curve.

UPDATE...In the second session now and hearing Angela McFarlane from the University of Bristol present on the use of games in the UK. Collaboration, problem solving, and forums to persuade with evidence are skills that their student surveys suggest are advanced through use of gaming. Transparency and accurate content/models are key design features. For example, if a student is playing "Rollercoaster Tycoon," what economic models (if any) are reflected in the game. Are the models accurate or are students at risk for negative learning? Also, students will reject games that are too easy or too hard, so it is important to scaffold the learning experience so students can game in their zone of proximal development. Saving and scenario development are features that impact upon the use and allocation of instructional time if your classroom utilizes gaming. Feels, correctly I believe, that developing relevant, real-world simulations or games is much more difficult than developing fantasy based games. The implication I draw is that while the private sector will be very innovative in terms of presentation, multi-media, and multi-player capabilities, the education sector should not rely on the private sector for much in the way of substantive game development because it is unlikely to be as profitable as gaming for entertainment.

Now Marc Prensky is up and is choosing to lead off by promoting his upcoming book. "When and How Can Game-Based Learning Eliminate the Need for Teachers in Certain Areas." He says he is not aiming to eliminate all teachers, just the lousy ones. Now he is citing "Human Accomplishment" by Charles Murray who he characterizes as an excellent statistician, and is asserting that teacher quality is not on a normal curve, but on a Lotke curve, which is skewed to the left.

His next topic jump is to note that $50 billion annually is spent on teaching secondary math globally and assert without examination that this is an excessive amount to allocate to this objective.

Prensky proposes that games should be used less for enrichment and more for offloading instruction from teachers. He argues that the positive consequences are that teachers have lighter loads, can concentrate in areas where they matter most and will be happier. On the negative, students may not learn some things that they learn from teachers now and perhaps some teachers lose jobs, although there is still the custodial care aspect. He posits that the status quo keeps the "flow" of courses together, but teachers will still struggle in their areas of weakness.

But how to decide what should be offloaded. Do we select topics that students like to learn least? Do we select topics that teachers like least to teach? Or do we select whatever can be presented/learned sequentially/procedurally and by algorithm. Once example of a promising game he cites is Spore by Will Wright, the Sims creator. However, Prensky believes that today's students (Digital Natives) are more receptive to algorithmic learning than their teachers (Digital Immigrants). I am inclined to believe. However, there needs to be a realistic appreciation of what is strictly procedural and what is not. That requires deep content area knowledge to be embedded in the development process. It is hard to say based on a short talk how wide a circle Marc Prensky casts for procedural knowledge and skills. I'm thinking that "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

When challenged on his view of teacher expertise, Marc Prensky stated that pedagogy is not a set of complex skills and that virtually all educational research is terribly flawed. He also downplayed the importance of content specific pedagogical skills, which is very much against the current research trend in classroom effects. Prensky clarified that he believes the most critical teacher attribute is the ability to be empathic and motivate students. His position, then, seems to be that we should select teachers based on their ability to relate effectively with students and offload as many content specific learning tasks from the teacher to games.

McFarlane weighed in again at this point to agree that much of the research base was problematic, but that educational games and simulations have not been successful to date in moving students beyond rote knowledge. That is not to say better results cannot be achieved in the future, but everything to date suggests that teachers play a critical role in placing procedural learning in context.

Marc Prensky came in to jiggle our jello and succeeded to a large extent. Today he was playing for effect, but I will be interested to look more at his work to see if his overall view of learning is more nuanced.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Croquet: Cool Platform. Killer App for pre-service?

Our keynote speaker this afternoon is Julian Lombardi of the Croquet Project. Croquet is a consortium project to develop a peer-to-peer (no client-server) virtual environment. So far I'm seeing 3D simulations with incorporated video from web-cams, spread sheets, and the ability to draw new figures in space.

Oh my, now we are playing chess on two separate computers. The game resides on a MAC, but the other player is on a PC. Not a fancy chess app either, just a plain human vs. computer game, but exposed to the other computer through the Croquet architecture. A non-multiuser app inherits the interactive, multiuser qualities of Croquet. My, oh my!!!

Evidently, Croquet is stateful, so less communication between nodes.

A few little glitches. Annotation of created objects did not work in the demo, but really this is pre-alpha stuff.

Lombardi just showed us a phone booth and said that this year they hope to incorporate the ability to call in and out of Croquet.

I'm a bit overwhelmed right now and clearly a distributed platform like this has many potential applications, probably something of an understatement. But what I am thinking of right now is how frequently we discuss the disconnect between the theory of teaching as presented in pre-service programs in Ed Schools and the practice experience new teachers encounter when they enter the classroom. I'm trying to envision the ability to create an authentic MUD where pre-service teachers could take their lesson plans and materials and introduce them into a Croquet space, either with computer generated students of real students. Interacting with parents, administrators, other pre-service teachers, etc.

ISP Annual Meeting II-Transitions

A significant change this year is that the state transport/managed video core is upgrading to a new, converged IP system. This state network is distinct from the state's primary educational ISP. This entails some changes in how traffic ITp's to the POP's and then to the ISP core, which takes it to the common Internet, Internet2, what have you. Although there are some substantial engineering challenges with the transition, as a business decision I think it is pretty straightforward as long as you remember that transport and Internet service are two separate goods to be purchased.

Another change that the cooperative ISP is implementing this year is greenlighting the creation of ad hoc member working groups to develop value-added services. The goal is to share ideas, achieve economies of scale by collaborating at the cooperative level, and to decentralize/flatten some of the decision making so that the pace of advance continues. Not something likely to happen with a corporate ISP!

State ISP Annual Meeting

Will try a little more liveblogging today from our state ISP's annual meeting. It's a member-based cooperative focusing on the state university system, independent colleges, K-12 education, libraries, and increasingly local government.

Earlier, the candidates for the Board are giving brief statements. The candidates capture the diversity of the network, we have the CIO for a major urban district, a technology director from a medium sized district, two CIO's from private colleges, a library system technologist, and a technology manager for a county.

Now, the Executive Director is up for the annual state of the network address. With changing technologies and economics, it is important to pay close attention to this to get a sense of where we are headed in terms of costs and new services, so I'll post now and focus on listening to the remarks.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Only Connect!

I am trying something different today and blogging from a meeting. One of our key district priorities is to add more web-based capabilities to our instructional environment. We have some high school language arts teachers using Sharepoint for online discussions on texts, our physics classes are using WebAssign for web-based homework. Our assessment on these pilots shows that all students have Internet access at home, which makes us somewhat exceptional as a district. We envision many teachers utilizing Sharepoint with our more advanced staff, the techno jedi, adopting course management systems (CMS) like Moodle. We'll use best of breed solutions when we feel they offer significant advantages for teachers and learners, like we do with WebAssign for the sciences.

Now as long as you don't opt for the Portal version, Sharepoint is bundled with Windows Server at no additional cost and is not a big jump to get into if you are already running Windows as your server OS. But full blown course management systems are a different matter altogether. Are we going to make this capability available to our staff? Absolutely! But are we going to host it directly? Not sure.

So today, I am at a meeting for a working group convened by our state educational Internet provider on whether our Internet cooperative should be looking to host a CMS for the membership. To me, this offers tremendous economies of scale and the opportunity to pool expertise and ideas for innovation. Do I want to host a CMS like Moodle on my own, or are we better served by a cooperative model? I'm thinking the latter, but we'll see where the discussion heads today.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Is There a Place for Vocational Education in Tomorrow's High Schools?

There is a general climate of dissatisfaction with the state of the American high school. That's not surprising since it is nearly a half century since the Conant Commission and the rise of the comprehensive high school. And it's not just an outside perspective. NASSP's Breaking Ranks initiative is now in its second phase. Last month, several governors held a High School reform summit where Bill Gates keynoted on the lack of equity and rigor in high schools today.

Two themes that are increasingly heard are the need to provide a rigorous, pre-collegiate academic program for all high school students and a questioning of the value of vocational education in high schools. The Bush Administration is proposing to redirect funding from the Carl Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act. Girlonthescape has been posting about this a few times. Meanwhile, Jenny D. has jiggled some jello in asking why shouldn't we have many more students in AP courses.

This morning, I noticed this article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel citing business concerns about a lack of skilled workers in the trades.

So what is the world that you are seeing? Are we all going to be programmers, lawyers, engineers, and marketing specialists? Or will there still be a demand for welders, carpenters, drafters, and computer technicians? If the trades aren't going away (and they aren't), should vocational training be situated in our high schools? I say yes, because these educational opportunities can engage many students who can also benefit from coursework that prepares them for democratic citizenship. I also reject the idea that there is a choice to be made between rigor and Voc-ed. Granted, there are trade-offs in designing a schedule, but there is no reason why students can't take ag and bio, or welding, engines, and physics. Why is vocational education on the chopping block?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Purpose of Assessment

It's not that hard to find opposition for "testing." Kimberly has cited some examples over at Number 2 Pencil that simply amplify a widespread point of view. But when you ask someone their views on "assessment", a more positive response likely will be forthcoming. Very few parents or teachers believe in classrooms where there is no attempt to monitor student progress.

To me, testing is a form of assessment. It's a subset of assessment that has a very useful purpose as long as it is aligned with instructional objectives and the teacher receives individual results rapidly enough for diagnostic and formative uses. That is, to adjust instruction based on student progress as measured by several assessments.

For others, though, testing is seen as irrelevant to individual student learning and perhaps harmful. It's how some disparage assessment that they don't like. So when did testing become divorced from assessment and who wrote that memo?

Granted, standardized testing has its limitations. While you can assess mathematics very effectively, probably up through calculus, using multiple choice items, it is hard to assess language usage and reading beyond basic proficiency levels. Too often, standardized testing is developed with accountability in mind, not improving instruction for individual students. We see that in the awful delays involved in getting results back to teachers and families.

But it doesn't have to be that way. This is the 21st century and there is no reason why standardized assessment results cannot be processed in weeks, if not days. If we develop standardized assessments to serve both as formative and accountability assessments, insist that results be immediately provided to teachers, and provide teachers with the tools and training to integrate these results with their classroom assessments, then maybe testing and assessment won't be separated any more.

Is there a distinction between testing and assessment? What would you do to improve assessment in your state or in your school?

Friday, February 25, 2005

Page 123

Suggested by Polski3 and it will be interesting to see what different folks post up.

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.

"We have no option but to try to help him."

From The Committed Life, by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Carnival of Education Continues

The third installment of the Carnival of Education is set to debut Wednesday. Props to the Education Wonks for organizing this EduSphere sampler.

School Leaders and Working Conditions

Posts expressing disappointment in one’s administrator or noting outright leadership failures are a staple of the EduSphere. In recent examples, girlonthescape has chafed under the supervision of her petty AP, Polski3 has written about double standards and a lack of disciplinary support in her school, TeachWonk has described the intrusive ways of “administrator with attitude” Counselor Clueless, and Ms. Frizzle has wondered, “How do you get smarter administrators? In response to Jenny D.’s post on NYC funding, teacher Bea denounced nepotism, corruption, and a complete breakdown of discipline in her old school. And then there was extensive coverage of the Colton Walkout, which was eventually attributed to changes imposed by an arbitrary principal.

A few days ago, I posted on Hanushek, Kain, and Rivkin’s Revolving Door essay, where they suggested that monetary incentives take a back seat to working conditions in explaining teacher turnover and migration from high need/low capacity districts to lower needed/higher capacity districts. Due to the limitations of their data set, Hanushek et al could only describe working conditions in terms of student achievement and demographics. The authors acknowledged that the data did not permit an examination of factors like support, discipline, and bureaucratic environment.

Does school leadership make a genuine difference in the quality of working conditions and school effectiveness, or is the ideal of the super supe or the principal as instructional leader an idyllic Great Man (or Woman) pipe dream that defies realization? And is leadership still centered in the main office, or can teacher leaders like mentors and department chairs exercise distributed influence in the classroom?

My conviction is that good school leaders contribute substantially to good schools. To me, effective school leaders are characterized by technical competence, or expertise, professional ethics, and political skill.

The technically competent administrator is expert in subjects like assessment, intervention, differentiation, budgeting, and personnel. When coupled with actual teaching experience, they own a balance of theory and practice that teachers respect and supports instruction. The ethical administrator develops trust, maintains a positive learning environment by being a consistent disciplinarian and fostering an invitational tone, supports teachers and students, and doesn’t flinch from presenting bad news to parents of staff. I’d contend that ethical administrators worked to nurture professional learning communities even before DuFour popularized the concept. They are also into selfless service, although maybe at some personal cost. The politically skillful administrator is a communicator who engages parents, Boards, and the community at large in celebrating successes and identifying needs. They mobilize support to obtain resources for their school. These are the attributes I look for in myself and in my colleagues. But as a practicing administrator, I may be biased. Please share what qualities matter to you.

In sum, my questions are these. What do you look for in a good administrator? What qualities are the most destructive? And what is a good administrator worth to you vs. a big salary bump, or a new, larger classroom with adequate furniture, equipment, and supplies? How do we develop smarter, more effective leaders for America’s schools?

Teacher Responsibility for Student Learning

Jenny D. has posted a very important question. "Are teachers responsible for student learning?" The simple answer is, of course. If your students don't learn, how can you claim to have taught them anything? But sole responsibility doesn't rest with the teacher. Students must take responsibility for their own learning and so should their parents, particularly in the K-8 years.

Jenny's medical analogy is well taken. A doctor is responsible for their patients' health, but if a patient doesn't give up a two-pack a day habit the doctor is not accountable.

Jenny also is probing the extent of responsibility. It is an important topic and I hope you check her post and offer your comments there.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Dahlia Lithwick on Staunton

While catching up on Slate this morning, I see that Dahlia Lithwick posted her take on the Staunton controversy earlier this week. Her Jurisprudence column is one of my favorite features on Slate. I don't have the benefit of a legal background and admire her ability to address legal questions of the day with writing that is sharp, accessible, and sometimes entertaining.

The issue in Staunton centers on the school district's accommodation of off-campus weekday religious education programs. Once a week, elementary students whose parents have signed them up for the program leave school grounds to receive religious instruction at various nearby churches. As Dahlia points out, this is constitutional under current precedent. It's not uncommon in some parts of the United States either. In a community like Staunton, where news reports indicate that most families participate, it's an example of local control in action.

In the end, the Staunton School Board decided to continue the release program. The long term challenge to this practice is probably not from different applications of the Establishment Clause. Instead, academic needs will compete more strongly with voluntary religious education for instructional time as the various state accountability systems ratchet up toward NCLB's 100% proficiency requirement. By all accounts, and I will vouch for this based on childhood experience, instruction is pretty much halted for the non-participating students left behind in school, so instructional time is reduced for all students. I suspect the need for more instructional time to meet state academic requirements will curtail many release programs in the next decade.

For a good summary of the legal issues, check out Dahlia Lithwick's article.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Revolving Door

Jenny D posted on school finance reform in New York City and has prompted a spirited dialogue in her comments section on the effectiveness of additional funding and teacher retention effects. It brings to mind an essay by Erik Hanushek, the late John Kain, and Steven Rivkin titled "The Revolving Door: Factors Affecting Teacher Turnover." This appeared both in Developments in School Finance: 2003 and in Education Next. I believe a more technical write-up appeared elsewhere. It serves as a good marker for what we know, and don't know, about teacher turnover.

Hanushek, Kain, and Rivkin used data from the Texas Schools Project to examine movement among elementary school teachers from 1993 to 1996. It's worth remembering that these are very skillful investigators, using a relatively rich data set, studying a level where specialization and competition from other job sectors is less than 7-12. Even so, their findings include several qualifications.

The authors found that financial factors had a stronger effect on male teachers than female teachers and that salary increases had a stronger influence on teacher movement in the first few years of their career than in later years. Working conditions, defined for this study's purposes as student achievement and demographics, were stronger factors. The authors did not have data to capture some of the variables you often see referenced on blogs such as administrative leadership, professional community, order and discipline, parental involvement, and adequate materials and supplies. These unmeasured factors may correlate with achievement and demographics, but which way do the arrows go?

Teachers consistently moved from districts with low achievement and high poverty to districts with higher achievement and less poverty. The same was true for movement within districts between schools. White teachers moved from schools with high minority populations to schools with lower minority populations. The net effect was that as teachers gained experience they would migrate to school settings with more advantaged students, with the result that schools with higher disadvantaged populations needed to hire inexperienced instructors every year.

The authors cited previous work to note that 10% of improvement in teacher effectiveness may be attributed to experience, so much could be gained by improving teacher quality through active professional development. They left unanswered whether high need schools would be investing in teachers that would be hired away by lower need schools, perpetuating the cycle.

It's impossible to do justice to the essay in a posting and I recommend those with an interest in teacher retention in high need schools read it in its entirety.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


This is the inaugural post for Learning Matters, where I hope to discuss or highlight education issues of interest from time to time. Work and studies permitting, I hope to post frequently but not daily.