A New Focus

As you can see by the new header for the site, I’ll be changing the focus of the Ed Tech Journeys blog, from leadership and technology, to the teacher’s path.

At no time in my life has teaching been under such pressure. To me, teaching is more than a job, it’s been a calling. Education has always been about teaching the whole child, heart and mind. The great teachers and coaches I’ve been lucky enough to have in my life have always made me feel special, connected, and loved. They encouraged me, and nurtured me; as they’ve done with all their students.

But times have changed and we’re in the midst of downsizing the educational workforce, while adding the demands of high stakes testing, the Common Core Curriculum, new professional evaluation processes, more mainstreamed students, more paperwork, more angry parents, and more professional development with initiatives from anti-bullying to new technology. Stress levels are at an all-time high. Even the best teachers in the best schools are feeling the weight of an educational environment that is permeated by a culture of scarcity, a fear-based system of accountability, union demonizing, and teacher bashing. Add a growing number of students with emotional, language, and behavioral challenges and it isn’t hard to see why nearly 50 percent of teachers leave the field within their first five years.

We can do better. We can maintain teaching as a path with heart without abandoning academic standards. In fact, the research shows that it’s a teacher’s personal attributes, ’soft’ skills, and presence; not their IQ, that makes the greatest positive impact on student achievement. So, by focusing less time on the external elements of teaching, and more time on the inner life and well being of the teacher, we can create classrooms that produce academic success AND nurture our students’ personal growth and special gifts.

This blog will be the first of several endeavors I will launch to support teachers as they walk the path to mastery. If you’re one of those on the front lines feeling the pressure, hang in there. What you do matters! It’s important…and so are you!

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Is the Public Ready for Educational Change?

Is the U.S. public ready for educational change? The 39th Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Survey indicates the answer is “Yes”.

Does the public support fixing the present system or finding an alternative system?


The fact that 72% of the respondents feel that reforming the existing system is the best route to reform should be gratifying for those of us in public education. The general public, has a strong affinity with its schools.

What does the public see as the greatest challenges faced by educators?


The public identifies “lack of financial support/funding/money” more than 2 to 1 over all other problems. While that does not necessarily translate into more funding for schools, it does show that the public is aware of the lack of funding.

The survey also reveals public support for Charter Schools as a pathway to educational reform.


Would the general public support Virtual Schooling?


Although there has been a significant increase (from 30% to 41%) in the number of respondents that approve of virtual schooling, a significant number (58%) disapprove.


The public sees smaller class size, performance-based financial incentives, professional development, and higher beginning salaries as the most effective ways of attracting and keeping qualified teachers.

I have devoted two posts to this survey because I wanted to explore whether the public is supportive of educators, whether they will support meaningful change, and to better understand their positions on the key issues we discuss endlessly on our blogs.

It seems, in the broadest terms, that the public is with us.The question for us is how do we take this very general and passive support for public education and translate it into support for transformational change.

The Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Survey indicates that we have a firm foundation of trust with the public. It is time for leaders to step forward to create a compelling narratives that tap into the concerns of educators, parents, taxpayers (and students); and at the same time paint a clear picture of education in the 21st Century.

In the midst of the many great challenges we face as a nation; support for public education and our schools, remains strong.


The Public’s Attitudes Towards Public Schools

As educators its important to keep an eye on public attitudes toward our public schools.”The 39th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools” by Lowell C. Rose and Alec M. Gallup; provides us with a treasure trove of data on public perceptions that, in general, leave me very optimistic about our future as an educational system, and as a nation.

When asked to grade the schools in the community 45% of the public gave the schools A’s & B’s. Fifty-three percent of those with children in public schools gave their community schools A’s and B’s.


When the question focused even closer to home, “What grade would you give the school your oldest child attends?” the numbers climbed significantly, with 67% of parents giving the school an A or B.


When asked to rate the public schools in the nation as a whole, only 16% assigned the schools A’s or B’s.


While there are many ways to interpret this data, it seems that the more the public knows about it’s schools, the more they approve of them.

The public’s attitude toward the current emphasis on standardized tests is also encouraging. When asked if the increased emphasis on testing has helped, hurt, or made no difference in the performance of the local public school; 70% responded that it “hurt” or “made no difference”.


Finally, when asked if the current emphasis on results is encouraging teachers to teach to the tests is a “good thing” or a “bad thing”, 79% of the public responded “a bad thing”.


The fact that the more the public knows about the public schools, the higher they grade them; coupled with the growing dissatisfaction with the emphasis on high stakes testing is creating a national environment that is ready for change. Will our political leaders step up to the plate? What changes does the public support?

We’ll look at the data in my next post.


Teacher Dropouts: Why?

Teachers hold 3.8 million jobs in elementary and secondary U.S. public and private schools, representing approximately 4% of the total civilian workforce. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2006).

On average, a third of the newly hired teachers leave during their first three years; almost half leave during the first five years (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future [NCTAF], 2003).

Here is a table representing how teachers who left the profession, compared various aspects of their current occupation with teaching.


What an eye opener!

Teachers who left the profession rated only two aspects of the teaching profession higher than their present non-teaching position:

1) Benefits 2) Job Security.

The biggest differences cited?

1) Autonomy or control over workload – (65.2% vs 13.7%)

2) Manageability of workload – (60.4% vs 13.5%)

3) General work conditions – (50.9% vs 4.3%)

4) Intellectual challenge – (51.8% vs 17.4%)

5) Opportunities for professional advancement – (53.9%vs 18.1%)

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bad news….

Check out these disparities:

1) Professional prestige – (57.7% vs 15.8%)

2) Recognition and support from administrators – (46.8% vs 19.7%)

3) Opportunities for Professional Development – (41.7% vs 19.0%)

So, we have overloaded educators, with little autonomy, little opportunity for professional growth, poor working conditions, minimum intellectual challenge, poor support from administrators, and minimal professional development opportunities.

Is it any wonder why the system is failing so many of our kids?

It’s not just failing our children; it’s failing our educators, too.

“..in comparison to the high school student dropout rate, the teacher turnover rate over an equivalent four-year period is greater than the student population dropout rate.” Laird, DeBell, and Chapman (2006)

Will integrating technology into this environment make a real difference or do we need to transform the environment?


Fact or Fiction? Are Older Teachers Slow to Adopt Technology?

Older teachers are slowing the pace of technology change. As new, and younger teachers enter our schools we’ll begin to see the “real” transformations begin.

Thoughts like this get repeated so often that they go unchallenged. Take a look at “Can Older Teachers Learn New Tricks”; “Young Teachers Are More Effective Than Older Ones”

There is not only a technology gap between students and older teachers, but also between younger (“Millennial”) teachers and older teachers.
Millennial teachers have a much easier time incorporating technology
into teaching, are more willing to take risks with it and are more
comfortable letting their students help them figure stuff out. Many
older teachers are still terrified of computers and of losing their
authority or having it challenged in the classroom by admitting they
don’t know how to use the technology. Helium Blog – Sagebomb

Is the likelihood of adopting new methods of teaching and new tools, like technology, really a function of age? Is there any research to back up this commonly held view of older, let’s call them “veteran” or “seasoned” educators?

I found this interesting data from CDW-G’s third annual “Teachers Talk Tech” survey conducted in 2005 by Quality Education Data with 1,000 teachers from around the country.

The data shows that established, seasoned teachers indicate no innate resistance to classroom technology.
The 2004 Net Day “Speak Up for Teachers Day” survey of 11,132 teachers highlights a similar finding:

One of the major themes of the national findings was:

Defying conventional wisdom, older teachers are as comfortable and fluent using technology as their younger colleagues.

So, are older teachers just as likely to adopt technology as their younger counterparts? Are we buying into a myth and writing off our most experienced educators?
Maybe technology adoption has less to do with age…and more with professionalism?

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What Makes a New Subject Interesting?

I was cleaning out some old folders on my hard drive and came across this interesting USA Today poll result that I’d been keeping:

When children between the ages of 6-11 were asked, “What makes a new subject in school most interesting to me?”; the most common response was the Internet.

How do we explain these results?

Is there something intrinsically interesting in reading about a new topic on a web page versus a textbook page?

Is it more interesting to learn about a topic from web pages because they tend to use more media such as photos, graphics, and animations than a textbook or a standard teacher lecture?

Is the Internet the kids are referring to the Read Write Web where they interact with others and actively engage in conversations and building knowledge…say through a Wiki or blog?

Is it simply that kids love to be in control. Even at the youngest ages, (especially at the youngest ages) they like to manipulate things. Does sitting in front of a computer that is “their’s”, controlling the keyboard, the searching, and the finding, while maybe taking notes…feel especially empowering to them?

How would you explain the results of the survey?


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What Makes a New Subject Interesting?

I was cleaning out some old folders on my hard drive and came across this interesting USA Today poll result that I’d been keeping:

When children between the ages of 6-11 were asked, “What makes a new subject in school most interesting to me?”; the most common response was the Internet.

How do we explain these results?

Is there something intrinsically interesting in reading about a new topic on a web page versus a textbook page?

Is it more interesting to learn about a topic from web pages because they tend to use more media such as photos, graphics, and animations than a textbook or a standard teacher lecture?

Is the Internet the kids are referring to the Read Write Web where they interact with others and actively engage in conversations and building knowledge…say through a Wiki or blog?

Is it simply that kids love to be in control. Even at the youngest ages, (especially at the youngest ages) they like to manipulate things. Does sitting in front of a computer that is “their’s”, controlling the keyboard, the searching, and the finding, while maybe taking notes…feel especially empowering to them?

How would you explain the results of the survey?


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Teaching Requires Knowing Our Students

“Miriam had taught eighth grade for years. She knew the required curriculum and the amount of time available for each unit. Over the years she had collected many instructional resources to add interest to the topic. She was confident that she had fully prepared for teaching this material. Miriam was unaware that the classroom itself doomed some of her students to failure.

Sue had planned on using at least one Cooperative Learning activity to teach this unit. She assumed that, by actively involving her students, they’d all learn enough to get As or B’s on the unit test. She was doing exactly what her supervisor had suggested. This time her students would out-perform themselves! Sue was unaware that Cooperative Learning would not be effective for a majority of her students.

Barbara had taken a course in alternative teaching strategies. She’d learned that the Activity Alternatives in a Contract Activity Package allowed students to use their “multiple intelligences” to show what and how much they had learned. Her roster included several adolescents who were struggling with identity issues. She thought she’d try a Contract to see if students did as well as her professor had predicted they would. Barbara forgot that the professor had said that Contracts were great -for motivated auditory and/or verbal students.

Most teachers assume that if they care about the youngsters they teach and “cover the curriculum,” their students should be able to master it. Most teachers know what to teach, but don’t realize that they can’t possibly know how to teach it without first identifying how their children learn. And most children do not learn traditionally through lectures, readings or discussions.

Doesn’t everybody learn the same way?

Prize-winning research has made it clear that most children can master the curriculum when they’re taught with strategies, methods or resources that complement how they learn. However, students in the same class often learn differently from each other and many actually learn backwards from each other. As a result, Strategy A can produce an A for one student and a C for another, whereas Strategy B can reverse these same two students’ grades.”
-How do we teach them, if we don’t know how they learn? Apr 1999 by Dunn, RitaRita Dunn

We can talk about Educational Technology and its role in transforming teaching and learning all we want; it is an amazing tool that can be used to differentiate instruction and accommodate the learning styles of most students; but isn’t knowing how the individual students in our classrooms learn best, at the core of all school reform?


Labor Day Statistics

How do the numbers of teachers compare with other occupations?


How do teacher salaries compare across the profession?


Notice that the annual mean wage of elementary and secondary school teachers is $33,330. This annual salary is lowest of all teaching occupations. Also, notice that nearly every industry in the private sector pays their teachers/instructors more than double the K-12 annual mean wage.

Here is a comparison of the states with the highest annual mean salary and the lowest:


Believe it or not the states in the following table prohibit teachers from collective bargaining:

Do teacher unions succeed in gaining resources for teachers?

“A fairly recent study focused on whether unions were more successful in gaining resources for teachers in the form of pay and smaller teaching loads. The data was compiled from 10,000 school districts over a period of 30 years. Results show that teacher salaries were 5% higher and had 1.7 pupils fewer than comparable non-union schools.

An earlier comprehensive study of teacher salaries was done in 1982. In this study wage changes were used to estimate a wage pay premium when a school district moves to union representation for teachers. The estimated pay premium in this study was about 12 percent and is comparable to pay premiums in the private sector. Results indicate that teachers in a district with a collective bargaining agreement will earn significantly more than one that does not have such an agreement and provides a significant economic incentive for teachers to be pro-union.

Another study used Census data for school districts in 1970, 1980 and 1990. The most recent data from this study estimates a union pay premium at 5.1% for 1990.”
From “Unions and Teachers: Differences in the State of the Nation”, By Carol Wright and David E. Gundersen

Is there a correlation between unionized teachers and student performance?

“A number of studies show that unions improve student achievement. One of the most recent and comprehensive was conducted by Steelman, Powell, and Carini in the Harvard Educational Review. Based on the premise that investing in education is an investment in human capital, it suggested that education should be looked at differently than looking at productivity in the private sector. The study looked at State variations in teacher unionization and education productivity measured by SAT and ACT scores. Covered states are defined as those where all teachers are covered by a collective bargaining or meet-and-confer agreements.

The authors of the study summarized their findings stating “… we find a statistically significant and positive relationship between State teacher unionization rates and State standardized test scores after controlling for potential confounding factors.” In explaining the results, the authors state that unionized schools are more likely to have a lower student-teacher ratio, higher per capita expenditures, higher teacher salaries, better working conditions, better teacher training, and greater worker autonomy.

Other studies also suggest that unions provide student achievement benefits. Research by Argys and Rees used math scores from tenth grade from a base of math scores from eighth grade. Results indicated that student performance in union schools increased 1.3% more over the two-year period compared to nonunion schools. Another study using SAT scores and data from the National Assessment of Economic Education survey found that performance improved at a 1.9% rate for union schools compared to nonunion schools.”
– From “Unions and Teachers: Differences in the State of the Nation”, By Carol Wright and David E. Gundersen

Are Teachers’ Unions Good or Bad for Education?
“Are teacher unions good or bad for education? Public opinion differs andresearch results that were previously discussed are inconclusive. A 1998 Gallup Poll asked the public whether they believe teacher unions made a difference in the quality of education. Results showed that 27% believed unions helped, 26% believed they hurt, 37% believed they made no difference, and 10% had no opinion.”
From “Unions and Teachers: Differences in the State of the Nation”, By Carol Wright and David E. Gundersen

Do Teachers’ Unions Have Too Much Power?
“The current contract between the Board of Education and the UFT can best be described as a “we-don’t-do-windows” document. Among the tasks that principals are forbidden to require of teachers under the contract: attending more than one staff meeting per month after school hours, walking the children to a school bus, patrolling the hallways or the lunchroom or the schoolyard, covering an extra class in an emergency, attending a lunchtime staff meeting, or coming in a few days prior to the opening of school each September to do some planning.

The contract undermines teacher professionalism, excellence, and hard work in other ways. In all but a handful of the city’s schools, principals must fill many of their teacher vacancies according to seniority rather than merit. J. Cozzi Perullo, principal of the elite Stuyvesant High School, has complained that she has no control over who is hired for half of the school’s posted vacancies. And when a teacher does transfer from one city school to another, the principal of the new school can’t even get the previous principal’s written comments on the transferring teacher’s personnel file.

The contract makes it almost insurmountably difficult for a principal even to begin the process of charging a teacher with incompetence under the union-written state education law. Every time the principal wants to record a negative evaluation in the teacher’s personnel file, the teacher can contest that single entry through three separate grievance procedures, leading all the way up to the Board of Education. Even after the Board has upheld the principal, the teacher, with the help of the union, can go to arbitration to contest the single negative entry. The process is so tortuous that most principals don’t even bother trying; they accept it as a fact of school life that a certain number of incompetent teachers must be carried on the payroll.

Jorge Izquierdo of P.S. 163 in Manhattan is one of the rare principals who have not only tried to purge incompetent teachers but are willing to speak publicly about the issue. He told me that in the case of one totally dysfunctional teacher, he has spent close to 100 hours out of the building over the past two years in grievance sessions at the district office, at the Board of Education, and at arbitration sessions. Although every one of his negative evaluations has eventually been upheld, he still must go through the process for another year before this one employee might have to face formal disciplinary charges—a process that could take several more years. “I am like the CEO of a little corporation,” says Izquierdo. “I am judged by whether or not I achieve the equivalent of a profit—how much the children gain in learning. But unlike any other CEO, I can’t hire the people who work here or fire them when they’re incompetent.”
From “How Teachers’ Unions Handcuff Schools”, by
Sol Stern

Happy Labor Day!


Full Disclosure: Early in my career I was on the negotiating committee for the Teachers’ Association in my district. Our teachers defied a court order and went on strike. We settled one day later.

Educational Change: Diplomacy Not War

All talk of bad intelligence aside, we preemptively invaded Iraq because we believed that we could create an example of democracy in the Middle East that would fundamentally shift the balance of power in the region. We decided that diplomacy was too slow, and too incremental. We believed it would be easier to replace the existing regime with one more friendly to the U.S. We have paid a high price for our miscalculations. Let’s not make the same mistake with educational change.


Educational leaders see the potential of technology and learning, and understand that major transformation and change is necessary to maintain our position as a world leader and superpower, and in fact, for our basic survival as human beings. Our leaders also know the lever that can move the world to a new future is education; but the pace of educational change can be frustratingly slow.

Our system of education is monolithic and slow to change. As leaders we can get to the point where we are tempted to lose our patience and adopt an “the end justifies the means” mentality. We may rationalize to ourselves that the only way to get to our vision of the future is to do a complete “teardown” of our existing system and rebuild it from scratch. Those who think declaring war on education and advocating revolutionary and violent change should look at Iraq today, and think twice.


Revolutionary change seems like a good idea in the abstract; but we are not just changing the system, we are attempting to change the culture, values, and beliefs of the human beings that compose the system. We are asking educational professionals to shift their long held beliefs about teaching and learning. We are asking them to abandon deeply rooted classroom practices and behaviors. We are taking away their reference points and asking them to step into the unknown, the uncomfortable, to become beginners again. Do we actually think that 100 years of a teacher/curriculum centered culture would give way to some new model without significant resistance; any more that 1,000s of years of Iraqi culture would disappear without an insurgency?

We need to resist the impulse to abandon diplomacy. Teachers need to see clearly why existing practice is no longer desirable. They need to see how the new practice will be better. Often we make the case for change superficially and clumsily. We play a video highlighting statistics showing that the world is changing and that kids in the US need to keep up. We quote “The World Is Flat”, we invite a celebrity keynote to inspire the staff to new ways of looking at teaching and learning. After the initial “Bang!”, we start introducing the innovations and change, as if teachers will “get it” in one or two sessions. This is not diplomacy. It is wishful thinking.


The truth is, we may need to have many, many, long conversations, answer many questions, provide more research and evidence than we think we should have to, in order to help teachers begin to see the need for systemic change. Real change requires a huge commitment to an extended “give and take” conversation. It is not limited to questions and answers at a faculty meeting; but a sustained long- term conversation; an examination of the existing beliefs, values, and culture of the educational professionals with whom we work. It may require a multi-step approach that begins with easier to accomplish goals, and as trust is built, moves to more difficult goals.

Even if teachers accept the premise of change, they will need a tremendous amount of support as they attempt to modify their behaviors and classroom practices. Knowing something is the right thing to do is one thing. Doing it is something else. Diplomacy takes time and patience; but if we miss this step we will make little, if any, meaningful progress, in implementing sustainable change; and like in Iraq, we run the risk of a long-term insurgency.


Do we really want an educational system that would give way to a new idea without resistance? If it did, what would that say about the system? No, we have real people and real professionals working in our schools and, if we want transformative change; we should respect them enough to engage in the hard work of diplomacy. War is never the answer.