Whatever Happened to Team Teaching?

In teaching high school history and graduate university courses for many years, I have team taught with other history and English teachers and university colleagues many times. For example, Roberta Rabinoff Kaplan and I taught English and social studies at Cardozo High School in the mid-1960s. And in Stanford University’s teacher education program, I team taught a social studies curriculum and instruction course for a decade with Lee Swenson, then an Aragon High School history teacher. Historian David Tyack and I teamed up to teach “History of School Reform” between 1987 and 1998. Tinkering toward Utopia came out of our collaboration.

I enjoyed very much the planning together and actual teaching that I and my team-mates did. Sure there were conflicts over choice of content, which materials to use, who would do what and when during the lesson, and similar decisions. More often than not, we negotiated in order to collaborate and conflicts eased. In every instance of team teaching at Cardozo High School in Washington, D.C. and at Stanford University, arrangements were made informally rather than part of an organizational initiative to spread the collaboration.

Yet at one time team teaching was a “best practice” promoted by national associations, districts, and individual schools. It is hard to recapture just with words the national excitement over the innovation of team teaching introduced in the late-1950s after the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite. Team teaching then was seen as the solution to the organizational problem of stodgy, individualistic teaching in the age-graded school’s self-contained classrooms when collaboration was rare and isolation was the rule. It was considered a “best practice” of the day. Yet as a buzzword, team teaching in K-12 classrooms flew like a shooting star across the educational sky in the 1960s and disappeared by the mid-1970s leaving little cosmic dust in its wake. Of course, team teaching exists in U.S. classrooms now but what it was and its history is a tale in of itself.

What is team teaching? In brief, team teaching is collaborative planning and enactment of lessons among two or more teachers in a building; sometimes called co-teaching it can happen in elementary schools at grade level while in secondary schools team teaching occurs within and across academic subject departments (e.g., history and English, science and math, art and English). In some instances, teachers are responsible for large groups of students as in open space elementary schools once popular in the 1970s. These teachers decide when to have all students together for lectures, small discussion groups, and independent work. So there are many variations in the form and content of teach teaching (see here, and here).

What problems did team teaching aim to solve? Promoters of the innovation in the 1960s and since saw team teaching as a way of breaking down the organizational barriers embedded in the age-graded school organization such as each teacher with her own classrooms isolated from peers in the same grade or department. Isolation of teachers from one another in comparing and contrasting approaches to lessons prevented collaboration that, in turn, limited students’ exposure to different ideas and ways of teaching and, at the same time limited teacher growth in subject matter, pedagogy, and managing students. Both critics of and advocates for public schools noted how little collaboration occurred between professionals in schools.

Did team teaching work? Anecdotal evidence from teachers more often than not underscored increases in job satisfaction that team teaching brought to participants. As to whether team teaching produced gains or losses in student academic performance, well, research findings are mixed (see here, here, and here). The literature, as scarce as it is, comprises dissertations, studies of particular teams in a school, and similar case studies (see here, here, here, and here)

As to solving the problems of teacher isolation and insulation within the age-graded school, I have not yet found any such evidence. To look for evidence, researchers have had to document  the situation in schools prior to introduction of team teaching then whether schools modified their schedules sufficiently to give teams of teachers adequate time to plan and coordinate teacher schedules, especially in secondary schools, as well as insert into weekly schedules back-to-back classes so the team teaching could be enacted. Again, such studies I have yet to find.

What has happened to team teaching?

Both formal and informal team teaching continues in U.S.schools. No longer an attractive slogan , elementary and secondary school teachers of like mind and with a cooperative principal work out arrangements to team teach for a few years and then return to their usual routines. With the ubiquity of classroom technologies and the buzz around “personalized learning,” team teaching has become a way of teachers( special education and regular classroom teachers working together as coaches of teachers, teams working at grade level responsible for large groups of students, and the like (see here). And there are schools that rediscover team teaching and crow about it (see here).

Finally, other variations of teaming have emerged over time such as teacher residencies where a beginning teacher (akin to medical residencies in hospitals) is paired with an experienced teacher and both work to teach students cooperatively and the neophyte over a two-year period gains important content and skill knowledge as well as techniques to manage classrooms when they become full fledged teachers (see here, here, and here).





Filed under how teachers teach, school reform policies

High Tech Innovations and School Reform Joined at the Hip

When asked how I got interested in the uses of technology in schools and classrooms, I answer that I was the target for a quarter-century of high-tech innovations and classroom reforms  when I taught high school history and as a district administrator in two urban school systems.

I then say that I have been trained as an historian and studied many efforts of reformers to improve schooling over the past century in U.S. classrooms, schools, and districts. I examined how teachers have taught since the 1890s. I investigated policymakers’ constant changes in curriculum since the 1880s. I analyzed the origins of the age-graded school and the spread of this innovation through the 19th century. And I parsed the Utopian dreams of reformers who believed that new machine technologies (e.g., film, radio, instructional television, desktop computer) would alter how teachers teach and students learn. I then conclude my answer by pointing out that these electronic devices are in the DNA of all classroom-driven reforms aimed at altering how teachers teach and how students learn.

What surprises me is that these questioners had not viewed high-tech innovations as having either a history in schools or as blood relations to constant efforts to improve schools. Instead, they saw (and see) innovative high-tech devices as singular, even exceptional, ways of transforming teaching and learning completely divorced from previous efforts at improving classroom practice through curricular (e.g., math, social studies, science), instructional (e.g., project-based learning, direct instruction) and organizational (e.g., site-based management, charters, mayoral control) reforms.

And that is a big conceptual error. Why? Because, school and classroom reforms including technological ones, are embedded in one another like those nested Russian matryoshka dolls.


Creating a school where district officials say “personalized learning” is in place is an organizational and instructional reform as are 1:1 laptop schools and online instruction. Teachers using Google Earth, Teaching Tolerance, Geometric Supposer, Chemix School and Lab, and other software programs are implementing curricular reforms and shaping instruction. Technological innovations, then, are nested in curricular, instructional, and organizational reforms. Consequently, they share similar features.

For example, all reforms come bathed in rhetoric. Take the “21st Century Skills” effort, organized by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a coalition whose members include Verizon, Hewlett-Packard, Apple, and Dell. Their mission is to prepare the current generation of children and youth to compete in a globalized economy. Their words, like the rhetoric of so many other reformers—past and present—portray an economic, social, and political crisis for U.S. competition in world markets unless today’s youth leave school fully equipped with the skills of creating, innovating, problem-solving, collaborating, and critically thinking. And don’t forget: a repertoire of technological skills. The rhetoric must not only create a sense of crisis, it must portray existing institutions as woefully deficient. Read the stuff.

If patterns emerge from analyzing reform rhetoric so can patterns be observed in the journey from policy talk to an adopted and funded program. Designing the policy and program means frequent revisions as they go through the political vetting process to get adopted and funded (think of “personalized learning” in its various incarnations, Every Student Succeeds Act, and district adoption of Success for All).

Ditto for finding patterns in the degree to which those adopted policies get implemented and changed as the design (e.g., Open Court reading to Dreambox software to a Balanced Literacy program) wends its way into the school and eventually to classrooms.

If reform rhetoric, policy adoption, and putting innovations into practice can be examined for regularities so can the criteria used to assess the reform (e.g., test scores, satisfaction of teachers and students with innovation, rates of graduation, etc.). Once assessed, determining whether or not the reform should be incorporated—should the innovation be sustained–into school and classroom practices is a judgment call that authorities make on the basis of political, ideological, and evidentiary grounds.

In viewing technological innovations as a sub-set of curricular, instructional, and organizational reforms, then, teachers, principals, and parents can identify patterns and figure out possible consequences for the adoption of the innovation. They can track the journey as it goes from policy to classroom practice, and expect certain outcomes while being open to unanticipated ones as well.

Too many policymakers, practitioners, and parents see technological innovations as unique initiatives unrelated to historic patterns in adopting and implementing school reforms. They err. My experiences as a practitioner and historian have taught me to see technological devices as part of the river of reform that has flowed constantly through U.S. schools for nearly two centuries.


Filed under school reform policies, technology use

Changing One’s Mind about School Reform

The following post is an encore published nearly seven years ago. I have updated and added sections to it.

A few years ago, Diane Ravitch told (The Death and Life of the Great American School System) of her recent switch from championing school reforms (testing, accountability, and choice) as a federal policymaker, educational historian, and pundit to rejecting these policies. Ravitch’s turnaround got me thinking about what I had believed earlier in my career and believe now sixty years later.

I began teaching high school in 1955 filled with the passion to teach history to youth and help them find their niche in the world while making a better society. At that time, I believed wholeheartedly in words taken from John Dewey’s “Pedagogic Creed” (1897): “… education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform.”

And I tried to practice those utopian words in my teaching in Cleveland (OH) and Washington, D.C. between the early 1960s and mid-1970s. While in retrospect I could easily call this faith in the power of teaching and schooling to make a better life and society naïve, I do not. That passionate idealism about teaching and the role that schooling plays in a democratic, market-driven society gave meaning and drive to those long days working as a teacher, getting married, starting a family, and taking university classes at night.

That confident belief in the power of schools to reform society took me to Washington, D.C. in 1963 to teach Peace Corps returnees how to become teachers at Cardozo High School. I stayed nearly a decade in D.C. teaching and administering school-site and district programs aimed at turning around schools in a largely black city, a virtual billboard for severe inequalities.

I worked in programs that trained young teachers to teach in low-performing schools, programs that organized residents in impoverished neighborhoods to improve their community, programs that created alternative schools and district-wide professional development programs for teachers and administrators. While well intentioned federal and D.C. policymakers attacked the accumulated neglect that had piled up in schools over decades, they adopted these reform-driven programs haphazardly without much grasp of how to implement them in schools and classrooms.

I have few regrets for what I and many other like-minded individuals did during those years. I take pride in the many teachers and students who participated in these reforms who were rescued from deadly, mismanaged schools, and ill-taught classrooms. But the fact remains that by the mid-1970s, with a few notable exceptions, most of these urban school reforms others and I had worked in had become no more than graffiti written in snow. And the social inequalities that we had hoped to reduce, persisted.

After leaving D.C., my subsequent work as a superintendent, high school teacher, professor, and researcher into the history of school reform led me to see that the relationship between public schools, reform, and society was far more entangled than I had thought. Most important, I came to understand that the U.S. has a three-tiered system of schooling based upon performance and socioeconomic status.

Top-tier schools—about 10 percent of all U.S. schools–such as selective urban high schools in New York, Boston, and San Francisco and schools in mostly affluent suburbs such as New Trier High School (IL), Beverly Hills (CA), Scarsdale (NY) meet or exceed national and state curriculum standards. They head lists of high-scoring districts in their respective states. These schools send nearly all of their graduates to four-year colleges and universities.

Second-tier schools—about 50 percent of all schools often located in inner-ring suburbs (e.g., T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA) often meet state standards and send most of their graduating classes to college. But, on occasion, they slip in and out of compliance with federal and state accountability rules, get dinged, and continue on their way as second-tier schools.

Then there is the third tier of schools located in big cities such as D.C., Philadelphia, Detroit, St. Louis, Atlanta, and rural areas where largely poor and minority families live. Most schools in these cities are low-performing and frequently on the brink of being closed. Occasionally, a stellar principal and staff will lift a school into the second tier—with regular and social media hyping the change as a new day for neglected Americans—such turnarounds do occur but they are both uncommon and transient.

Such a three-tier system in the U.S., I concluded, maintains social stability (and inequalities) yet, and this is a mighty large “yet,” good teachers and schools even in the lowest tier of schools can promote positive intellectual, behavioral, and social change in many children and youth.

The irony, of course, is that current policymakers from President Obama [this post appeared in 2012] through local school board presidents and superintendents still mime John Dewey’s words and act as if schools can, indeed, reform society. Knowledge gained from decades of experience as a teacher, administrator, and researcher have made me allergic to utopian rhetoric about the role of schools in society. I have become skeptical of anyone spouting words about schools being in the vanguard of social reform.

Yet, I must also say that those very same experiences have tempered but not dissolved my early idealism. I still believe that content-smart and classroom-wise teachers who know their students well can make significant differences in individual students’ lives even if collectively they cannot cure societal ills.


When this post was published almost seven years ago, a reader commented:

I agree with you wholeheartedly, but I have one question: how can the “content-smart and classroom-wise” teacher make a significant difference when his/her hands are tied by a mandated test-prep curriculum that allows for little or no innovation and that squelches teacher-student spontaneity?

I replied:

Thanks for the important question that you ask. Although what I say may not resonate with you, the experienced and committed teacher you describe does have ways of dealing with “mandated test-prep curriculum.” Those ways, however, put the burden squarely on the shoulders of those “classroom wise teachers.” One is to raise those issues with other like-minded teachers in the building or outside of the school and mobilize others to find ways of combining test prep with content and skills that students need; another is to use the test-prep for small portions of the week rather than every day; another is to find another place to teach where what you have to offer students goes well beyond test prep.

My reply was focused on the classroom and school. Not on the larger political arena where policies are formed, put on reformer agendas, and enacted in the nation’s schools.

Seven years after this post was published, there have been larger political changes. No Child Left Behind (2001-2015) and its coercive accountability rules have been replaced by Every Student Succeeds Act (2016) shifting authority for standards, tests, and accountability to states. Yet that shift has hardly dissolved the nearly four decade policy consensus that the prime purpose of public schools is to prepare children and youth for the workplace. The Trump administration’s support for charters and vouchers has far less clout with states now that ESSA is the law of the land and may well have drummed up more opposition to charters and other alternative forms of schooling.

While there is far more political stirring among teachers, parents, and segments of the educational policy elite to have less standardized testing and use multiple measures to judge districts, schools, and teachers, the mind-set of A Nation at Risk (1983) continues to dominate thinking about school reform. Sure, there has been pushback against goofy schemes such as evaluating teachers on the basis of student test scores or the hyped claims that the Holy Grail of reform is every child having a computer and “personalized learning.”

As in the past century, school reformers today are split over the best ways of improving the nation’s schools but the prevailing purpose of tax-supported public schools still remains preparation of the next generation for the workplace. For that to shift to other historic purposes of schools (e.g., preparing active and engaged citizens, shaping humane, well-rounded adults) a range of actions by a political coalition of educators, civic and business leaders, researchers is essential. For schools follow society; political action from without influences what schools do. Tax-supported schools, past and present, have not led political or social reform.


Filed under Reforming schools, school reform policies

Educator Discussions That Avoid “The Problem”

In 1942, Progressive educator Paul Diederich wrote “The Light Touch: 27 Ways to Run Away from an Educational Problem” for Progressive Education. He wrote this piece after being part of intense discussions with hundreds of teachers during summers in the late-1930s when the Eight Year Study was being implemented in 30 high schools across the nation.*

Like Diederich, I have participated in thousands of discussions with teachers, principals, superintendents, board of education members, researchers, and policymakers over my half-century in public school work. I might be able to add one or two but Diederich does a fine job, in my opinion. When I think of (and listen to) current debates about problems like inequality, racism, and poverty as they influence what techers do, how schools operate, and effects on students, I recall many times when I heard and saw school baord members, superintendents, principals, teachers, and parents engage in what Diederich lists below. Here is what he wrote in 1942.


“Most educational problems become, sooner or later, a desperate attempt to escape from the problem. This is often done clumsily, causing unnecessary embarrassment and leaving the group without the comfortable feeling of having disposed of the problem.  Educational leaders long ago worked out adequate techniques for dodging the issue.

The following list, of course, is a tentative, partial, incomplete, a mere beginning, etc. but it should give group leaders a command of alternative modes of retreat and enable them.
1. Find a scapegoat. Teachers can blame administrators, administrators can blame teachers, both can blame parents, and everyone can blame the system.
2. Profess not to have the answer. That lets you out of having any answer.
3. Say that we must not move too rapidly. That avoids the necessity of getting started.
4. For every proposal set up an opposite and conclude that the “middle ground” (no motion whatever) represents the wisest course of action.
5. Point out that an attempt to reach a conclusion is only a futile “quest for certainty.” Doubt and indecision promote growth.
6. When in a tight place, say something that the group cannot understand.
7. Look slightly embarrassed when the problem is brought up. Hint that it is in bad taste, or too elementary for mature consideration, or that any discussion of it is likely to be misinterpreted by outsiders.
8. Say that the problem cannot be separated from other problems. Therefore, no problem can be solved until all other problems have been solved.
9. Carry the problem into other fields. Show that it exists everywhere; therefore it is of no concern.
10. Point out that those who see the problem do so because of personality traits. They see the problem because they are unhappy— not vice versa.
11. Ask what is meant by the question. When it is sufficiently clarified, there will be no time left for the answer.
12. Discover that there are all sorts of dangers in any specific formulation of conclusions; of exceeding authority or seeming to; asserting more than is definitely known; of misinterpretation by outsiders— and, of course, revealing the fact that no one has a conclusion to offer.
13. Look for some philosophical basis for approaching the problem, then a basis for that, then a basis for that, and so on back into Noah’s Ark.
14. Retreat from the problem into endless discussion of various ways to study it.
15. Put off recommendations until every related problem has been definitely settled by scientific research.
16. Retreat to general objectives on which everyone can agree. From this higher ground you will either see that the problem has solved itself, or you will forget it.
17. Find a face-saving verbal formula like “in a Pickwickian sense.”
18. Rationalize the status quo; there is much to be said for it.
19. Introduce analogies and discuss them rather than the problem.
20. Explain and clarify over and over again what you have already said.
21. As soon as any proposal is made, say that you have been doing it for 10 years. Hence there can’t be possibly any merit in it.
22. Appoint a committee to weigh the pros and cons (these must always be weighed) and to reach tentative conclusions that can subsequently be used as bases for further discussions of an exploratory nature preliminary to arriving at initial postulates on which methods of approach to the pros and cons may be predicated.
23. Wait until some expert can be consulted. He will refer the question to other experts.
24. Say, “That is not on the agenda; we’ll take it up later.” This may be repeated ad infinitum.
25. Conclude that we have all clarified our thinking on the problem, even though no one has thought of a way to solve it.
26. Point out that some of the greatest minds have struggled with this problem, implying that it does us credit to have even thought of it.
27. Be thankful for the problem. It has stimulated our thinking and has thereby contributed to our growth. It should get a medal.






*I thank Laura Chapman for bringing the Diederich piece to my attention. There are differences between the piece in Progressive Education and the document that historian Robert  Hampel included in his collection of Diederich articles. I relied on Hampel’s source.



Filed under leadership, Reforming schools, school reform policies

Teacher-Led Schools: The Mouse and Hippo

Groups of teachers founding charters, taking over failing schools, or simply creating different ones is a smart idea. It is worthwhile and needs much support to spread since teachers can design, implement, and administer such schools as well as if not better than policymakers hiring  principals and high-paid consultants. After all, one doesn’t have to know too much history of U.S. public schools to remember that teachers ran their own schools when rural one-room schoolhouses prevailed a century and a half ago and before principals (remember the first ones were called principal-teachers). Nonetheless, there are some facts that cannot be ignored.

First, some teacher-run schools will fly and some will crash.

Second, as these teacher-run schools get established, they will be a small (but nonetheless, important )contribution to the necessary mix of schools needed to improve urban districts. Even though :Os Angeles, Detroit, and other districts have authorized teacher-run schools there are still less than 100 across the nation (of about 100,000 public schools). This is where the mouse and hippo enters the picture.


New schools including charters come from policymakers who decide that such schools can alter what usually occurs in traditional schools. Politicians and policymakers create most schools. The hippo. And teacher-run schools, the mouse, will always be small in comparison but, as in the Mike Twohy story, can be both a friend and a guide to “good” schooling.

Such teacher-led schools will mobilize many teachers (Teach for America graduates, deeply committed novices and a chunk of mid-career professionals) and parents to form democratic cooperatives (mostly charters) and run schools but fall far short of a majority of teachers–there are over 3.5 million in the U.S.–since most teachers went into teaching to teach, not to organize and govern schools.

So what? Sure, some teacher-run schools will flop. Designing new schools and running them is as complicated and risky as starting any new venture as edupreneurs say repeatedly. Failure is common. And, sure, most teachers didn’t enter teaching to run schools but to teach children and youth. So these ventures, like homeschooling and charters, will always be a small fraction of public schools.

The over-riding reason for having teachers organize and govern schools, especially in urban and rural poor districts, is that having a mix of different kinds of schools (KIPP, Green Dot, Aspire, hybrids of high-tech and traditional classrooms, magnets, cyber schools, community schools that offer wraparound services, etc.) offers diverse ways of organizing and governing schools with possibilities for teaching children differently and well.

Offering a menu of choices is sensible when you do not know for sure which ways are best to get minority and  low-income children to learn, achieve, and succeed in school. And, the fact remains that we do not know how to school, much less educate, the diversity of low-income children that enter public schools.

A menu of choices is democratic when different definitions of “good” schools compete with one another. To many parents and policymakers, a traditional school–a “real” one–is “good.” That is, students in each grade determined by age, one credentialed teacher in a classroom, students sitting in desks, same state curriculum, bells ending lessons,  textbooks, homework, testing, and after school clubs and sports.

To other parents, a teacher-led school that organizes itself around multi-age groups with similar performance levels who work on student-generated projects that probe deeply into content and skills cam be “good.”  And even other parents and teachers judge schools to be “good” that seek social justice by problem-solving and working closely with community groups. There are even other parents who see cyber-schools as “good” because each student can work at his or her pace and meet performance objectives.

Both sensible and democratic, the creation of alternative schools can (and has) become experimental laboratories for the vast majority of public schools to borrow and implement new ideas. Teacher-led schools add to the menu of potential “good” schools in the two-century old decentralized system of U.S. public schools.






Filed under Reforming schools, school leaders, school reform policies

Technological Monitoring of Student Work in a Classroom

I was [in] a classroom yesterday and all of the kids had Chrome Books. They opened them midway through the class to read a few excerpts the teacher had selected. After the class, the teacher told me that he has a monitor at his desk that allows him to see what each of the kids is looking at on their computer. I don’t spend a lot of time in classrooms – I was in this one for something unrelated – but I thought this monitoring system was interesting. I’ve since found out that it is fairly common in some school districts. I wondered if you’ve encountered this and, if so, what your thoughts are about teachers having this ability to peer in on their students? It seems useful in the sense that you want to be sure students are following along. But it also feels like one more thing a teacher has to worry about. Another teacher told me he doesn’t use the system because he feels like it’s an invasion of privacy.

I received this note from a reporter working for a national newspaper. The reporter wanted to ask me what I thought about this all-too-common issue in classrooms where each student has a device–or what used to be called 1:1 computers. The reporter raises the issue directly as a clash between two values teachers highly prize: insuring students are doing what teachers directed them to do with their devices and respecting the privacy of individual students.

I answered the reporter’s email with a hastily constructed paragraph:

Yes, what you describe is common in districts where school provides devices to each student. The rationale is for the teacher to be aware of the level of student understanding of the lesson (often students send in their homework and assignments to Dropbox or a similar storage software so teachers can identify if students are on right track or not). Teachers having this software are able to give individual attention when needed. Such monitoring does not occur in those schools where devices are available to each student when they bring their own device to school—called BYOD. Does it invade privacy? To some it appears so but schools are tax supported institutions charged to achieve educational goals. Prior to the ubiquity of these devices, first-rate teachers would walk around the room seeing if students were on task and working on assigned activity. Was this invasion of privacy. Hardly. 

Reflecting later in the day on the reporter’s email and my response, I decided to elaborate my hasty answer in this post.




Two imperatives of tax-supported schools create the tension between the above values. First, public schools compel students between certain ages to attend school. In effect, these students are a captive audience.

Second, teachers have legal and moral responsibilities for student health, safety, and learning.

Because these captive students become inhabitants of an organization called the age-graded school, they are separated into groups of 20 to 35 and put into classrooms of about 900 to 1000 square feet depending on age. Teachers have to manage these 6 year-olds to 17 year-olds groups before any real learning occur. And let’s be clear on what I mean by “manage.”

I mean that the teacher maintains order in the classroom. By order, I mean that students adhere to behavioral rules, respect the teacher and she in turn respects them.When situations arise (e.g., student refusal to do work or follow behavioral rules, clowning around, interruptions, too much non-learning talk) the teacher intervenes, takes charge and deals clearly and firmly with students. A classroom climate where students’ accept teacher’s authority, obeys directions, and do what the teacher asks while the teacher respects students, refrains from publically embarrassing them, and encourages learning is what I mean by classroom management.

These two imperatives of tax-supported public education in the U.S.seldom get openly discussed but they are the bedrock upon which lesson plans, classroom instruction, and student learning are built.

Thus, the topography of a classroom started out over a century ago with 50-plus students sitting at desks arranged in rows facing a teacher and slateboard. Teachers constantly surveil students to maintain order for learning to occur. They scan the classroom constantly to see if students are on the assigned task.



united-states-1950s-teacher-watching-children-in-class-close-up-of-girl-writing-teacher-walking-around-and-making-comments-to-children-in-classroom_b8e6akuqg_thumbnail-full01.pngThen and now getting a group of 12 year-olds to listen to directions, engage in activities, and focus their attention on the tasks before them requires a teacher to be skilled in crowd management, directing students’ attention to what has to be learned, scanning the room, and creating a moral order anchored in trust for the 36 weeks that these young people and one adult will be together.

Now here is where the above reporter’s comment on using software to monitor student screens enters the discussion about students being on-task and possible abridging of students’ privacy.*

Given the two imperatives I laid out above and the history of public school teaching in age-graded classrooms, maintaining order and constant surveillance of students has been, historically, what teachers have to do in order for students to learn. Before there were computer devices and monitoring software, teachers walked up and down aisles of desks and around the perimeter of the classroom inspecting what students were doing.



It was the job of the teacher to know that students were working on what the teacher asked them to do.

In my judgment, when a teacher looks at student screens while a lesson is underway, there is no invasion of student privacy. It is simply what teachers do as part of their role in guiding student learning.

Had I been less hasty in my response to the reporter’s question, this is what I would have said.


*The privacy argument is further compromised because under the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), schools receiving federal funding are required to have an internet-safety policy and institute safeguards so that students cannot access inappropriate websites. In short, schools already intervene to protect children not their data.





Filed under dilemmas of teaching, how teachers teach, technology use

The New Stupid Replaces the Old Stupid (Rick Hess)

From an interview conducted in 2009 with Rick Hess, then Resident Scholar at The American Enterprise Institute. I have lightly abridged the interview. The original article upon which this interview is based is here.

Q: Rick, you recently published an article in Educational Leadership
arguing that the ways in which we rely on data to drive decisions in
schools has changed over time. Yet, you note that we have unfortunately only
succeeded in moving from the “old stupid” to the “new stupid.” What do you do
you mean by this?

A: A decade ago, it was only too easy to find education leaders who dismissed
student achievement data and systematic research as having only limited utility
when it came to improving schools. Today, we’ve come full circle. You can’t
spend a day at an education gathering without hearing excited claims about
“data-based decision making” and “research-based practice.” Yet these phrases
can too readily serve as convenient buzzwords that obscure more than they
clarify and that stand in for careful thought. There is too often an unfortunate
tendency to simply embrace glib solutions if they’re packaged as “data-driven.”
Today’s enthusiastic embrace of data has waltzed us directly from a petulant
resistance to performance measures to a reflexive reliance on a few simple
metrics–namely, graduation rates, expenditures, and grade three through eight
reading and math scores. The result has been a race from one troubling mindset
to another–from the “old stupid” to the “new stupid.”

Q: Can you give us an example of the “new stupid”?

A: Sure, here’s one. I was giving a presentation to a group of aspiring
superintendents. They were eager to make data-driven decisions and employ
research to serve kids. There wasn’t a shred of the old stupid in sight. I
started to grow concerned, however, when our conversation turned to value-added
assessment and teacher assignments. The group had recently read a research brief
highlighting the effect of teachers on achievement and the inequitable
distribution of teachers within districts. They were fired up and ready to put
this knowledge to use. One declared to me, to widespread agreement, “Day one,
we’re going to start identifying those high value-added teachers and moving them
to the schools that aren’t making AYP.” [AYP is the acronym from No Child Left Behind law (2002-20015); it means “Adequate Yearly Progress” in test scores for different groups of students.]

Now, I sympathize with the premise, but the certainty worried me. I started
to ask questions: Can we be confident that teachers who are effective in their
current classrooms would be equally effective elsewhere? What effect would
shifting teachers to different schools have on the likelihood that teachers
would remain in the district? Are the measures in question good proxies for
teacher quality? My concern was not that they lacked firm answers to these
questions–that’s natural enough even for veteran superintendents–it was that
they seemingly regarded such questions as distractions.

Q: What’s a concrete example of where educators and advocates
overenthusiastically used data to tout a policy, but where the results didn’t
pan out? What went wrong?

A: Take the case of class-size reduction. For two decades, advocates of
smaller classes have referenced the findings from the Student Teacher
Achievement Ratio (STAR) project, a class-size experiment conducted in Tennessee
in the late 1980s. Researchers found significant achievement gains for students
in small kindergarten classes and additional gains in first grade. The results
were famously embraced in California, which in 1996 adopted a program to reduce
class sizes that cost nearly $800 million in its first year. But the dollars
ultimately yielded disappointing results, with the only major evaluation–by AIR
and RAND–finding no effect on achievement.

What happened? Policymakers ignored nuance and context. California encouraged
districts to place students in classes of no more than 20–but that class size
was substantially larger than those for which STAR found benefits. Moreover,
STAR was a pilot program serving a limited population, which minimized the need
for new teachers. California’s statewide effort created a voracious appetite for
new educators, diluting teacher quality and encouraging well-off districts to
strip-mine teachers from less affluent communities. The moral is that even
policies or practices informed by rigorous research can prove ineffective if the
translation is clumsy or ill considered….

Q: In your mind, what are some of the main limitations of research as
they apply to schooling?

A: First, let me be clear: Good research has an enormous contribution to
make–but, when it comes to policy, this contribution is more tentative than we
might prefer. Scholarship’s greatest value is not the ability to end policy
disputes, but to encourage more thoughtful and disciplined debate.

In particular, rigorous research can establish parameters as to how big an
effect a policy or program might have, even if it fails to conclusively answer
whether it “works.” For instance, quality research has quieted assertions that
national-board-certified teachers are likely to have heroic impacts on student
achievement or that Teach For America recruits might adversely affect their

Especially when crafting policy, we should not expect research to dictate
outcomes but should instead ensure that decisions are informed by the facts and
insights that science can provide. Education leaders should not expect research
to ultimately resolve thorny policy disputes over school choice or teacher pay
any more than medical research has ended contentious debates over health
insurance or tort reform….

Q: What do you see as the main motivation behind the “new stupid”? Is
it simply an example of good intentions gone awry?

A: In a word: yes. It’s a strategy pursued with the best of intentions. But
the problem is threefold. First, as we’ve discussed, too many times those of us
in K-12 are unsophisticated about what a particular study or a particular data
set can tell us. Second, the very passion that infuses the K-12 sector creates a
sense of urgency. People want to fix problems now, using whatever tools are at
hand–and don’t always stop to realize when they’re trying to fix a Swiss watch
with a sledgehammer. Third, the reality is that we still don’t have the kinds of
data and research that we need. So, too often, the choice is to misapply extant
data or simply go data-free. Everyone involved means well; the trick is provide
the right training, the right data, and for practitioners, policymakers, and
reformers to ensure that compassion doesn’t swamp common sense.



Filed under Reforming schools, school reform policies, testing