Monday, July 17, 2006

Reflections on Teacher Recruitment

What is the PISA test? It's an international comparison, sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, of student achievement in reading and math, conducted on 15 year olds every three years (2000, 2003, . . .). Everyone around the world pays attention to this, but I'll bet most people in education in the US have no idea what it is. (I didn't.)

For more, see:,2987,en_32252351_32235731_1_1_1_1_1,00.html

It's worth reading Barry McGaw's analysis of the last two tests. McGaw is the former Education Director of OECD, and a very sharp analyst. He's a professor at the University of Melbourne:

While McGaw's main focus in this talk is Australia, there is a lot to learn from his charts and analyses about US schooling as well. The punch line: US performance in reading and math is both lower overall, and also much less equitable, than most of the countries we would regard as "peers" in education.

But that's not primarily what drives this posting. What interests me is a comment from a workshop held here in Tasmania a couple of weeks ago, on the state of teacher education. A major focus of the conversation was how to recruit more good people into teaching, and the impediments to doing so. Australia's (relatively good) performance on the PISA test was noted, but people asked what was different about the countries that truly excelled. Predictably, here as in the United States, a major barrier to recruitment and retention is the low priority and status accorded teaching.

And this made me think, for a country that was truly interested in improving and providing a more equitable education -- and specifically in improving the overall quality, diversity, and availability of good teachers for every school in the country -- wouldn't priority number one be better recruiting? I think of those flashy and super-expensive commercials the government produces to entice young people into enlisting into the Army or other military services -- ads which are ubiquitous during sporting events, MTV, and other youth-attracting tv shows.

The national budget for military recruitment and advertising is hard to pin down:

This site says about $3 billion:

But the total is probably much greater than that -- the Army budget alone was $1.3 billion in 2005:

A better guess is well over $4 billion:

I mention this not to bash aggressive military recruitment (not today, anyway) -- although, did you know that the "No Child Left Behind legislation mandates that school districts receiving federal funds send the military names, phone numbers and addresses of all high school seniors and grants recruiters access to students on high school campuses"?

Rather, I just want to ask the simple question, What difference would it make if the federal government spent $4 - 5 billion a year promoting the virtues of teaching, praising the commitment and sacrifice of teachers, and making the career of teaching an appealing career choice? What if the President went out of his way to praise teachers with the frequency and passion that he praised soldiers? Would the status and visibility of teaching be different if it were accorded the same kind of respect?


Jim Horn said...

Nick raises some very good questions about leadership that might lead us to better teacher recruitment, retention, support, and qualifications. It is unfortunate that this White House and this ED have initiated policies that have taken us in the other direction.


* have demonized, distrusted, and demoralized the teaching corps and the university programs that prepare teachers.

* have driven out many of our best veteran teachers who will not give up meaningful learning for mandatory ministrations and unending hours of meaningless test preparation.

* have created a confusing labyrinth for states and colleges that must modify and enact programs based on unrealistic timetables and shifting regulations. (It is the equivalent of the pilot going out to do repairs on an airplane that is in flight and nearing the airport.)

* have embraced alternative certification programs, including credentials obtained through an online testing company entity created with ED grant money (ABCTE), even though there is zero evidence that these alternatives offer the necessary knowledge, skills, and dispositions to help candidates succeed in teaching.

* advocate alternative school management options such as charters, which in many cases effectively neutralize collective bargaining rights of educators, while threatening the foundations of tenure laws.

* support and prefer the use of scripted teaching through direct instruction curriculums in reading and math literacy programs, particularly in high poverty areas. Direct instruction effectively de-professionalizes teachers by making them script readers rather than adaptive children’s advocates. With the preference for direct instruction comes the emphasis on a draconian and robotic form of behavior modification, which, when combined with endless recitation, creates what Jonathan Kozol describes as “cognitive decapitation.”

* support paid consultants in the conservative think tanks, who spew their reports arguing that teachers are lazy and stupid and make more money than they deserve.

* operate an around-the-clock public relations effort to castigate public schools and public school teachers for failing to reach performance targets intentionally set to be unattainable.

* ignore poverty and racism as factors in the performance of urban schools, while advocating the sending the poor children to even worse private church schools.

* finally, have enacted a strategy that is thoughtless and requires no thought, that is without feeling and solicits none, that is authoritarian and demands nothing less from all who participate in it.

Yes, Nick has raised some crucial points and made some important suggestions, but I am afraid most of them will have to wait until we get the leadership interested in public education. This White House and this ED are only interested in ending it.

Nick Burbules said...

Thanks Jim. This underscores the problem.