August 9, 2020

Equity and teaching matters most for student learning

Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education from Stanford University, has broad expertise and vast insights into public education, but her message is essentially this: systemic equity and great teaching matter most.

Sadly, American education is getting it wrong on both accounts.

Why should we care about her analysis? Simple, after many years of starting and supporting public, private, and charter schools – some that worked and some that did not – she knows a thing or two about schooling. Definitely more than me, and probably more than you.

According to Dr. Darling-Hammond, how we invest in schools and teachers either puts us on track for world-class outcomes or the same unacceptable, radicalized results we are now experiencing. Research seems to support her conclusions, over and over again.

When it comes to teachers we have to realize the game has changed. About this she says “”we have the expectation that teachers will no longer just cover the curriculum or get through the book, but they will actually be effective….they will actually ensure that all students in fact learn…that’s a much more complicated job than teaching was when we thought teaching was just getting through the book or getting through school.

To truly get it right for teachers and students, school districts should be providing systemic supports, meaningful feedback, access to sustained professional development beyond 1 or 2 day “spray and pray” seminars, and routine opportunities for collaboration in teams. If we succeed providing those things, student achievement improves.

Here are several other key takeaways from Dr. Darling-Hammond’s presentation:

#1 – Experts today know a lot more about teaching than ever before. Great teaching….

  • Engages students in active learning
  • Creates intellectually ambitious tasks
  • Uses a variety of teaching strategies
  • Assesses student learning continuously and adapts teaching to student needs
  • Creates effective scaffolds and supports
  • Provides clear standards, constant feedback, and opportunities for revising work
  • Develops and effectively manages a collaborative classroom in which all students have membership.

#2 – Highest performing nations invest in extensive initial preparation that includes clinical training in model schools and intensive mentoring that includes lesson study, action research, peer observation, and coaching to evaluate and improve practice. (13:48).

#3 – One of the strongest contributions to student learning is consistent “formative” feedback that provides them multiple opportunities to revise their work in real time (8:24).

#4 – High performing nations are making different investments than we are in the U.S., and it is paying off in higher student achievement for them. Here is what they focus on (11:27)….

  • Societal supports for children’s welfare
  • Substantial investments in initial teacher education and ongoing support
  • Schools designed to support teacher and student learning
  • Equitable access to a rich, thinking curriculum
  • Reducing student tracking, reducing the number of tests, and reducing the amount of external prescriptions given to teachers
  • Performance assessments – developed and scored by teachers – focused on higher skills rather than multiple choice testing, including essays and scientific investigation
  • Equitable resources with greater investments in high-need schools and students

#5 – Research in student learning gains are associate with teachers who have strong academic background, quality preparation for teaching, certification in the field they are teaching, 3+ years experience in teaching, and mastery of the skills measured by National Board Certification. Taken together, these factors predict differences in student achievement more than race and parent education combined (25:13).

For an example of how these focus areas have worked on the ground, skipped to 28:40.

Finally, the one point of agreement in the school “reform” debate is that our education endeavors should be evidence-driven and not faith-based (as a man of faith I quibble with this, but, c’est la vie). So, with all of the research and evidence that supports the focus areas above, what are we doing to ensure that school districts are heeding the word and pursuing these practices?

Please watch Dr. Darling-Hammond’s presentation below. If you’re an education activist or wonk or supporter, it’s worth an hour of your time.

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