"Successful" Chicago turn-around group does Ed schools' job

With success at 19 public schools (and I hasten to add, “success” as measured only by test scores) Chicago’s Academy of Urban School Leadership  AUSL –got reportage today on NPR.  The new CPS superintendent was out signaling his support of an charter school approach that, despite its mission statement, is really more about the teachers than the kids.

Great name + special faculty= higher test scores

AUSL‘s “Training Academies”are one-year residencies like those medical students go through before being accepted into their profession. After rigorous real-school  training, the “Academies” award successful applicants Masters degrees and places in needful CPS buildings. In effect, the AUSL program does what our Ed Schools should have been doing these past many decades: establishing and keeping high teacher quality standards.

By issuing Ed degrees to anybody with a passing grade for at least the last few decades, our colleges and universities, (I’m sorry, Ed people) have really let us down. With easy standards for certification and drive-by, three-month student-teaching programs, they have sold the American people some phony paper, kind of like those debt-backed securities that got the current recession going.

I don’t know what teacher’s college you went to, but unless it was on a par with the U of C’s or Columbia‘s, selectivity and a real-world curriculum were probably not featured. Instead it might have been program size or ideology wars, but not “how do you get the best people exercising the best practice into this extremely important job?”  At graduation from a highly-selective private university back in the 80s, I remember feeling a little horrified at the thought that some of my shockingly ignorant classmates would be getting the same degree as mine. I had worked hard for my degrees in French and English. I had become a deeper and broader thinker, a better communicator and a better person. They had remained narrow and dull, or even regressed through their four years. My bachelors felt cheapened by their dim-wittedness.On this sunny Sunday in May, most of them could be identified by their pink tassels–the sign that they would soon be loosed on vulnerable children as graduates of the School of Education. I cringed to think of the damage they might do to the next generation. People in the program seemed to be living down to that awful proverb, “Those who can’t teach.” And no one was stopping them.

Today I cringe again, but less horrified, reflecting that significant numbers of my dimmer and least-spirited former students pursuing Ed degrees may not receive teacher credentials. The state’s basic skills tests have been ratcheted upwards. Now you need at least a 75% to pass, according to this Tribune editorial). So that is hopeful.

In the meantime, though, there are American teachers who are truly mediocre or misplaced. Some  can be remediated, but at big expense. And all because, instead of fixing the problem where it started–on the supply end, where the filter has been broken–no one in mainline schools did anything about it.

And because the market abhors a vacuum, along comes an organization funded by a local philanthropist/hedge-fund investor, who along with help from  Bill and Melinda Gates  proceeds to radically focus on just one variable in the school equation, teacher quality. With selectivity (1 in 6 applicants are accepted) and rigorous, real-world (and quite possibly test-centric) curriculum  AUSL prevents unsuitable candidates from ever getting close to a classroom. And within a year after coming into a turned-around school building with a carefully-selected team of teachers–all pre-screened and prepared in the same way under a principal following a coordinated script–the AUSL folks turn the school around into an exemplary success that the new Superintendent thinks all “failing schools” might emulate.

AUSL schools deserve attention:  they shine out brilliantly in what had been a dim lobby of cronyism and denial. Their success with teacher quality control are a search light in a brothel, an embarrassing exposure of  a profession that has cheapened itself with too-easy credentials.

At the end of the day AUSL‘s approach to school reform has the compulsion of  rational common-sense:  if you wish to improve the practice of practitioners, put your focus on the person doing the practice. If only all school districts and local teachers unions were as collaborative and forward-minded as Randi Weingarten’s, the profession would move forward.

Mr. Gradgrind and his charges 

Let me be clear, though:  Arne Duncan’s “scorched earth” turn-around model of school reform, which the AUSL’s work is symbiotically-attached to and based on, has big problems. A reform model of “fire them all!” in which even the lunch ladies at “failed” schools are axed undoubtedly rends community fabric and damages many otherwise excellent public service careers. Furthermore, the AUSL‘s  use of test scores as the sole determinant of value in schools may be doing terrible things to the minds of their young Chicagoans. To get those impressive test gains, how much more Gradgrind, and how much less art, civics, and relational skills education is happening in AUSL‘s schools? I haven’t had a chance to investigate and so please do not take my admiration of their tactic as unqualified supporter of the AUSL.  My jury is still out.

Martin J. Koldyke

But in a cursory check of founder Martin J. “Mike” Koldyke, I note his generally teacher-supportive Teaching Excellence Network and have appreciated for years the only award for teaching anywhere in Illinois, the Golden Apple, which he founded. And in general I agree with the consistent and practical thrust to his educational philanthropy. He seems to have subscribed to a motto that, had it been the motto of the teaching profession for the past several decades in the USA, we wouldn’t be needing his philanthropy now to point out our problems:  teacher quality matters.

images from http://www.ausl-chicago.org/,  http://www.healthreformwatch.com/category/taxation/ 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: