Teaching teachers

Blame game must end for schools to improve, says new dean of CU education school

PHOTO: Courtesy of CU
Kathy Schultz is the new dean of the School at Education at the University of Colorado.

BOULDER — There’s a new dean in town.

And she wants to make teaching fun and intellectual again.

Kathy Schultz, who will begin her role as dean of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s School of Education in August, said in a wide-ranging interview with Chalkbeat that everyone needs to stop blaming each other for a broken school system and that teachers should be given more autonomy and better training based on individual needs.

Schultz currently runs the School of Education at Mills College, a liberal arts college in Oakland, Calif. She will succeed Lorrie Shepard, who led the school at CU for 15 years.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How are you getting settled in Boulder?
It’s been great. I’ve been able to meet with Lorrie about once a month.

This is such a strong school of education. What I really want to do is build on its strengths. I want to build on all the incredible programs going on already, while bringing in my own vision to support people to move forward.

There is an incredible faculty here. And from what I know, an incredible group of students. The kinds of programs and the research agenda and community engagement that people are doing make it really strong. The scholars here are nationally and internationally recognized. There’s this very nice combination of people committed to educational research and educational practice and educational policy. That kind of combination is really rare.

What is your vision for the school?
To really flesh out what my vision is, I need to keep learning about what’s being done here. My work has been in preparing urban teachers. One of the things that’s very interesting to me is that this school is not located in an urban center. I think that presents really interesting possibilities. I will continue to be very interested in understanding what the connections can be in Denver while thinking about how to look at underserved populations in rural areas.

As a dean, I’ve become increasingly interested in education policy. I really do see this as a place where there are a lot of people working on issues. There’s an opportunity to highlight our role in participating in public conversations.

The Denver-metro area student population is changing very quickly, in part to gentrification.
That’s one of the big issues I’ve been working on in Oakland: How are we responsible to these new and changing groups of students? I think that’s very relevant here. How do we think about changing demographics? What are our responsibilities? And what are our responses?

What are the responsibilities for schools of education?
It’s really important that schools of education present themselves as in the conversation, not the experts who are going to determine the conversation. So I’d like to think of the walls as being really porous. As a school of education, we should be learning from the community and using the external resources of the community to inform the courses we’re providing. At the same time, we’re not only educating the students in our walls, but (asking), ‘How do we contribute to the larger education of the community?’ Again, this school does this a lot. More and more schools of education have that obligation: take in knowledge, but also contribute knowledge through scholarship and research and through practice like professional development for teachers and policy briefs.

Many states, including California and Colorado, are in the midst of teacher shortages. What should teacher colleges be doing to address this? What have you done?
The figures are incredible in California: Over the last 10 years there’s been a 75 percent drop in people going into teaching. So that’s been a huge concern both for the health of the teacher education programs and school districts.

One of the things CU Boulder is doing is developing a new major for undergraduates. This major is being connected to leadership and civic engagement. It’s just such a strong move for the university to be making. What this means is that when students come in as freshmen, they have opportunities to think about teaching and think of it as being closely connected to community engagement work.

I think this generation of students, of youth, is interested in making a difference and being engaged in community. I think there’s less and less of an interest in just being a teacher.

Partly that’s because teaching is being de-professionalized. It’s not intellectual work in the same way it used to be.

That’s one way to work on it: make it a better profession.

Are we asking too much of our teachers?
I think what’s important is that when you have greater demands there should be greater rewards. And I’m not just saying financial rewards — although that would help. I’m also saying, make it so that teaching continues to be a rewarding profession. There just has to be a real, greater appreciation for teachers.

One of the things that happens in education is that there is this revolving set of targets for who to blame. It’s the parents or the children who are being blamed. More recently it’s been the teachers and the teacher educators. Some people would say the truth is it’s none of those — it’s poverty.

I don’t think it’s helpful to blame any group, or even poverty. I do think poverty is an underlying cause and needs to be addressed. People can’t learn if they don’t have breakfast. But I think that rather than blaming, there has to be a focus on, ‘What are the rewards? How do you recognize the successes of teachers?’

How do you make it so it feels not like a losing, overwhelming job — because people will leave it. And they do. It’s not only that people aren’t going into teaching. It’s that people are leaving too quickly. We not only have to get more people into teaching, but we especially need to work on retaining teachers.

At Mills, we put a lot of effort into programs to support teachers through their first three or four years of teaching. If you can get teachers to stay for three to five years, it’s more likely that they’ll stay longer. It’s that revolving door that is really creating the shortage.

What was your program at Mills like?
Teachers would come together once a month. They would bring questions from their classroom. Now, it’s really structured on teachers doing practitioner research in their own classrooms. We’ve developed it so principals are supporting whole schools to do this work.

Teachers feel like professionals. They’re actually doing research. They’re feeling respected for doing it. They’re teaching is improving. And they’re talking every month with their colleagues about a puzzle they have about teaching. And collecting data about it.

What could lawmakers do to improve the teaching profession?
For schools to succeed, teaching has to be a respected profession. And I think that means we need to attract the most excited and engaged people into teaching. That includes salary and work conditions. It’s really tied to the demands on teachers.

How do we both hold high expectations and give teachers autonomy? One of the ways that teaching doesn’t feel like a profession now is when teachers are given very little autonomy and are told what to do. That’s because accountability is held at such a premium.

I think the Every Student Succeeds Act is flawed in many ways that No Child Left Behind was. But I think more local control is a good thing. And the state would do well to give more local control.

I’m for even more than local control. I’ve written a lot about how teaching is about listening to students. So when I talk about standards, I talk in a way about respecting students’ own standards. I think we need to pay lots of attention to who students are and build curriculum around that.

That’s doesn’t mean as a country we don’t have high expectations. You don’t have to have national standards to hold high expectations for everybody. This is a cliche, but there is a difference between standards and standardization.

If you were going to open up a school for the 21st century, what would it look like?
It would be open to the community and it wouldn’t be just from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. It would be porous to the community. I think students would be able to pursue their interests. It would be well-resourced. There would be structure for people who need structure.

The idea of who is a teacher would be greatly expanded. There would not only be the people who are paid to teach, but also community members would be teachers and maybe students would be teachers.

There would be very high expectations. Maybe clear graduation requirements that would be adaptable to how the world is changing. It would have plenty of technology, as well as technology free spaces so there could be different forms of creativity.

… That sounds pretty romantic.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Mills College is an all-women’s institution. It serves both genders.  

another path

‘They’re my second family.’ Largest Pathways to Graduation class earn their diplomas

Jasmine Byrd receives an award for excellence after giving a speech to her fellow graduates.

Before last fall, Jasmine Byrd never envisioned herself striding across the stage to receive a diploma at a graduation ceremony.

But then Byrd moved to the Bronx from Utah and entered New York City’s Pathways to Graduation program, which helps 17- to 21-year-olds who didn’t graduate from a traditional high school earn a High School Equivalency Diploma by giving them free resources and support.

Just walking into this space and being like, this is what you’ve accomplished and this is what you’ve worked hard for is a great feeling,” said Byrd, who also credits the program with helping her snag a web development internship. “I’ve built my New York experience with this program. They’re my second family, sometimes my first when I needed anything.”

Byrd is one of about 1,700 students to graduate during the 2017-2018 school year from Pathways, the program’s largest graduating class to date, according to officials.  

This year, students from 102 countries and 41 states graduated from Pathways, which is part of District 79, the education department district overseeing programs for older students who have had interrupted schooling.

The program also saw the most students ever participate in its graduation ceremony, a joyful celebration held this year at the Bronx United Palace Theater. According to Robert Evans, a math teacher at one of the program’s five boroughwide sites and emcee of the graduation, about 600 students typically show up to walk the stage. But students can be a part of the ceremony even if they received their passing test results that morning, and this year more than 800 graduates attended.

There were still students coming in last night to take photos and to pick up their sashes and gowns,” said Evans.

The graduation ceremony is unique in part because the program is. Students who have not completed high school attend classes to prepare to take the high school equivalency exam. But the program also prepares students to apply for college, attend vocational school, or enter the workforce by providing help applying for colleges, creating resumes and other coaching.

To make sure that the program is accessible to all students, there’s a main site in every borough and 92 satellite sites, located in community centers and youth homeless shelters like Covenant House. Students who want to work in the medical field, like Genesis Rocio Rodriguez, can take their courses in hospitals. Rodriguez, who graduated in December, is now enrolled in the Borough of Manhattan Community College, and passing the exam meant being one step closer to her dream of becoming a nurse.

When I got my results I was with my classmate, and to be honest I thought I failed because I was so nervous during it. But then I went online, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh I did it!’ My mom started crying and everything.”

Byrd said the program worked for her because of the supportive teachers and extra resources.

“The teachers are relatable,” said Byrd. “They don’t put on an act, they don’t try to separate the person from the teacher. They really reach out, even call you to get you out of bed in the morning.”

Carmine Guirland said the supportive environment of social workers, guidance counselors, and teachers is what attracts him to the work at Bronx NeOn, a site where students who are on probation or who are involved with the court system can prepare for the exam, college, and careers.

When students are on parole they will have really involved [parole officers] who would text me at the beginning of class to check in so that we could work together,” said Guirland. “It’s really about that village thing. The more support systems that are available the more success the students will have.”

Reflecting on his experiences with the graduating class, Guirland’s most treasured memory was when one of his students proposed to his girlfriend in a guidance counseling session. Even though they aren’t together anymore, the moment was a reflection of the relationships that many of the students build during their time at Pathways to Graduation.

“It’s this amazing high moment where this student felt like the most comfortable place for him to propose to his girlfriend and the mother of his child was in our advisory circle,” said Guirland.

New Standards

Tennessee updates science standards for first time in 10 years. New guidelines stress class discussion, inquiry

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
Fourth grade science teachers Lamarcus Marks, of Rivercrest Elementary, and Angie Clement, of Bartlett Elementary, test out a lesson on kinetic and potential energy at Arlington High School, one of 11 statewide sites where Tennessee teachers are training for next year's new science standards.

How can a wolf change the river? Why doesn’t a cactus have leaves? Why can’t you exterminate bats in Tennessee?

With new state science standards coming to classrooms next fall, these are the kinds of questions students will explore in their science classes. They’ll be tasked not only with memorizing the answers, but also with asking questions of their own, engaging on the topic with their teacher and classmates, and applying what they learn across disciplines. That’s because the changes set forth are as much about teaching process, as they are about teaching content.

“At the lowest level, I could just teach you facts,” said Detra Clark, who is one of about 300 Tennessee educators leading teacher trainings on the new standards to her peers from across the state. “Now it’s like, ‘I want you to figure out why or how you can use the facts to figure out a problem.’”

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
Detra Clark, a science coach in Shelby County’s iZone, demonstrates a sample lesson for sixth grade science teachers.

On Wednesday, Clark — a science coach for the iZone, a group of underperforming schools that Shelby County Schools is looking to turn around — unpacked for her peers, who gathered at Arlington High School, a key component of the new material: three-dimensional modeling. Under three-dimensional modeling, students should be able to do something with the content they learn, not just memorize it.

In recent years, Tennessee students have performed better on state science tests than on their math and English exams. But state science standards for grades K–12 haven’t been updated since 2008. By contrast, math and English benchmarks have undergone more recent changes. To give the stakeholders time to adjust, results from next year’s science test, the first to incorporate the new standards, won’t count for students, teachers, or schools.

At the training session, Clark, standing before a room of sixth-grade science teachers, held up a chart with the names of woodland animals, such as elk and deer. Under each name, she tracked the population over time.

“At our starting population, what do we see?” she asked.

“The deer, it decreases again because it’s introduced to a predator,” a teacher responded.

“More resources, more surviving animals” another teacher chimed in.

“How can we explain what happened in year two, when we’re dealing with students?” Clark asked the group.

“The population went up,” a teacher said.

“They start to reproduce!” another teacher interjected.

Clark nodded.

In another classroom, this one composed of kindergarten teachers, Bridget Davis — a K-2 instructional advisor for Shelby County Schools — clicked through a video of fuzzy critters, each paired with a close relative, such as two different breeds of dogs.

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
In a teacher training session on Wednesday, kindergarten teachers highlight the three dimensions of three-dimensional modeling, a key part of new state science standards.

She encouraged the teachers to ask their students what traits the animals shared.

“The first thing they’re going to say is, ‘Well, one’s big and one’s small,” she said. “What we really want them to say is, ‘Well, their fur is the same color,’ or, ‘Mom has a patch of black hair here and the baby doesn’t.’ We want them to look at detail.”

She added, “We want them to get used to being a detective.”

The science standards that have been in place for the past decade fulfills the first dimension of three-dimensional modeling.

Doing something with that knowledge satisfies the second dimension, and the third dimension requires teachers to apply to their lessons a “cross-cutting concept” — strategies that students can apply to any subject, like identifying patterns or sequences.

Under the existing standards, a student may not have been introduced to physical science until the third grade. But starting next year, Tennessee schoolchildren will learn about life science, physical science, earth and space science, and engineering applications, beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school.

“I do believe that this is the best our standards have ever been, because of the fact that they are so much more detailed than they have been in the past,” Davis said.

About a thousand Shelby County teachers made their way to trainings this week, which were free and open to all educators. Several administrators also met to discuss ways they can ensure the new standards are implemented in their schools.

As with anything new, Jay Jennings — an assistant principal at a Tipton county middle school and an instructor at Wednesday’s training — expects some pushback. But he’s optimistic that his district will have every teacher at benchmark by the end of the 2018–2019 school year.

“We talked before about teachers knowing content, and that’s important,” he said. “But what we want to see is kids knowing content and questioning content. We want to see them involved.”

He reminded other school leaders about last year’s changes to English and math standards, a transition that he said was challenging but smoother than expected.  

“Teachers are going to go out of their comfort zone,” he explained. “But it’s not changing what a lot of them are already doing.”