Ann Arbor Approaches

1. UM On Tuesday I am going to the University of Michigan to give a talk. I have thought about the talk. I have corresponded about the talk. But I haven't yet, you know, written the talk.

I feel relaxed though. The next 5 hours are mine. I'm at Starbucks, so all caffeinated, and free until our first cookout of spring. (Ribeyes were on sale at Shaw's for $5.99 a pound. Plus I'll throw a little Hebrew National on there. And asparagus for Illusion Of Nutrition.™

I went to the UM website. Big profile of alum Dennis Littky. Made me wonder. Do I need a hat. Dennis has a hat. Seth Andrew has a hat. Maybe I should get a Manny hat. This is a regular Sox batting helmet, but with lots of pine tar smeared on, for easy access.

Dennis' alternative high schools in Rhode Island have the same mission as MATCH, college prep for poor kids. And a very different approach. Like us, now that he's been around a while, he's trying to solve the college success puzzle, more so than the college admissions puzzle.

Littky is pleased with the success of his students, but he’s not yet ready to rest on his laurels. “I started looking at the data,” he says, “and if you’re a first generation college-going kid, and poor: you made it through high school, so you’re in the 50th percentile. Eighty-nine percent of people like you drop out of college. That’s absurd! That means only 11 percent graduate!”

So Dennis is starting his own college. College Unbound. I hadn't known that. I should check it out.

2. TeachingWorks

TeachingWorks is a national organization based at the University of Michigan School of Education dedicated to improving professional training for teaching. It seeks to build consensus about the capabilities required for responsible teaching and to develop and share curriculum and tools for preparing and supporting teachers, performance assessments of teaching capabilities, and training for those who prepare, coach, and evaluate teachers.

TeachingWorks will also conduct and disseminate research related to teaching and teacher training and, through an active program of public engagement, promote broad awareness of and support for the professional training of teachers. Ongoing work at the School of Education offers resources and a laboratory for this agenda.

We seek also to be connected with other programs that are similarly engaged in serious reform of teacher preparation and training.

They've had a speaker series this year. You can watch on video. They include:

Brent Maddin, from Relay Graduate School of Education. (Brent and his wife Christine just had a kid, yet they managed to see a movie the other weekend. Ask him how).

Brandi Johnson of TNTP. Her talk went along these lines: We'd been around a while. Then we got some value-added data on how our teachers were doing. We weren't satisfied with our performance. So we "blew it up." Changed a lot of our training. Here is how.

Pam Grossman of Stanford describes practices essential to rookie English teachers.

3. Measuring Teacher Prep: Food Fight

Interesting news from Insider Higher Ed:

WASHINGTON -- Whether a federal panel will be able to agree on recommendations for an overhaul of rules related to teacher preparation programs is still uncertain. But at the end of the panel’s last full day of negotiations Wednesday, one thing was clear: many in higher education are alarmed by the path the committee is taking.

The rule-making panel is part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to change how the nation’s teachers are prepared. The panel has been controversial in itself, with some negotiators challenging the Education Department’s authority to determine some of the criteria under debate.

The negotiators, including representatives from schools of education, alternative routes to teaching such as Teach for America, teachers’ unions and other stakeholders, are considering several proposals that would push teacher education programs to focus on how their graduates eventually perform in the classroom (and how those new teachers’ students do on standardized tests and other measures of student learning).

Two measures especially have drawn concern from negotiators, deans of schools of education and other constituents: value-added scores, which attempt to measure how much teachers affect student learning, and a proposal to evaluate preparation programs based on their job placement rates and retention rates for new teachers.

The University of Michigan Ed School dean, amazing Deborah Ball who I've blogged about, is the lead signer on the letter expressing concern. I was a bit surprised and look forward to asking her about it if we get a few minutes.

I can't wait until our small program has value-added scores. (Hi Erin!) In Massachusetts, this is scheduled for 2014. While imperfect -- there are many technical challenge -- VAM is at least one indicator to tell us how successful our rookie teacher alums are with actual kiddos.

In fact, to connects the dots a bit, look above to TNTP's desire to make big changes to its teacher training. That came from value-added data which they'd sought out. Without that data, no change.

The same thing happened locally with Boston Teacher Residency. They made some big changes in response to value-added evaluation which they'd sought out, though a plausible alternative would have been simply to bury the report.

Our charter school, over the years, has learned a lot from our kids' test scores.

Not only does does the data create a sense of urgency, but it allows us to find teachers in other schools around the nation who are doing certain things better than us, and then go seek them out, observe them, talk to them, learn, borrow, change.

The day-to-day experience of our students is much better as a result. They learn more stuff.