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I know the headline is off-putting to teachers. The teachers who read here do not like being condescended to by “experts” who can’t do what they do everyday: teach 25-40 students.
Nonetheless, I am interested in hearing your reaction to this discussion.
Mark Tucker specializes in studying what top-performing nations do. He and Linda Darling-Hammond have prepared a report called “Empowered Educators,” which maintained that raising teacher preparation would transform the profession. Checker Finn criticized the report.
This article is Marc Tucker’s response to Checker Finn.
He begins like this:
On June 6, NCEE and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education will jointly release a new international comparative study of teacher quality, Empowered Educators, conducted over three years on four continents by a team of researchers headed by Linda Darling- Hammond. On May 24, Checker Finn published a blog critiquing Empowered Educators. In this blog, I respond to the points Finn made in his critique.
Finn begins by saying that he has no quarrel with the quality of the research: “There’s no reason to doubt the accuracy of their accounts and explanations.” Nor does he quarrel with the crux of the findings: “…teaching in those places is more professional, more respected, better compensated, more highly trained, more sensibly structured as a career, and overall more effective than in the United States.” He admires, he says, “…what Finland, Ontario, and Singapore have pulled off.”
So what’s not to like? In a nutshell, Finn thinks there is no chance that these ideas, policies or practices can be implemented in the United States. Why? He gives us five reasons. I’ll tell you what they are and respond to each in turn.
First, teaching is a mass occupation, the single largest occupation in the American workforce. So it is obvious to Finn that there is no prayer of getting our teachers from the upper reaches of the distribution of high school graduates, as the top performers do. He says the reason we have this vast workforce is that schooling is provided by great bureaucracies, school principals are middle managers rather than full-fledged institutional leaders and teacher’s unions insist on treating all teachers in the same way.
But schooling in the top-performing countries is provided by much more centralized bureaucracies than you will find anywhere in the United States, typically with a reporting line that runs from the top civil service professional in the ministry through that person’s direct reports, through their direct reports in the regions and provinces, to their direct reports in the districts to the principals to the teachers. Now that is a bureaucracy!
We have nothing like it. We do have much more bureaucracy at the district level in our larger suburbs and big city districts than the top-performing countries do, but we would not need anything like that number of people in the central office if we had the kind of highly educated and very well-trained teaching force the top performers have. Finn is right in saying that managing first-class professionals requires people with different skills than the typical school principal. It’s a different job. But countless American firms have helped their front-line managers transition from techniques appropriate to the management of blue-collar workers to managing professionals. Peter Drucker wrote a whole book about that transition. Why can’t our school system managers go through a similar transition? As a matter of fact, NCEE is deeply engaged in helping districts do that right now and it is going very well. ce
The clincher for Finn is that teacher’s unions insist on treating all teachers the same way. But Lily Eskelsen García, the NEA’s President, is on record as being deeply committed to the idea of teacher career ladders of the kind that Darling-Hammond and her team found in Singapore. As far as we know, the AFT is also open to the idea.
I am reminded of Pasi Sahlberg’s provocative article in The Washington Post, where he asked the question:
“What If Finland’s Great Teachers Taught in U.S. Schools?”
He reviews what makes Finnish schools excellent, then answers his own question:
I argue that if there were any gains in student achievement they would be marginal. Why? Education policies in Indiana and many other states in the United States create a context for teaching that limits (Finnish) teachers to use their skills, wisdom and shared knowledge for the good of their students’ learning. Actually, I have met some experienced Finnish-trained teachers in the United States who confirm this hypothesis. Based on what I have heard from them, it is also probable that many of those transported Finnish teachers would be already doing something else than teach by the end of their fifth year – quite like their American peers.
Conversely, the teachers from Indiana working in Finland—assuming they showed up fluent in Finnish—stand to flourish on account of the freedom to teach without the constraints of standardized curricula and the pressure of standardized testing; strong leadership from principals who know the classroom from years of experience as teachers; a professional culture of collaboration; and support from homes unchallenged by poverty.