L4: Chapter 4—The Achievement Gap/Education Debt/Opportunity to Learn

In Chapter 4, we also discussed the achievement gap or the opportunity gap or the educational debt, depending on who is writing the article. Based on a major report released in 2013 called the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), I think it is safe to say that teachers still do not have adequate support to face the challenges of meeting their students’ needs so that we can see a decrease in the opportunity gap (OECD, 2014). Administered since 2008, American teachers for the first time participated in TALIS in 2013. TALIS surveyed over 5 million teachers in 31 countries for their opinions in six areas: learning environment, appraisal, and feedback; teaching practices and classroom environment; development and support; school leadership; self-efficacy; and job satisfaction. While U.S. data are not included in the international data analysis because U.S. participation rate did not meet the international standards, the results of TALIS, released June 2013 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), nonetheless included a separate comparison analysis for over 100,000 middle school U.S. teachers and school leaders from 34 districts (Darling-Hammond, 2014). The survey provides substantial data, some of which on professional development were already known from TIMMS 1999. (For the teacher questionnaire, see http://wwwoecd.org/edu/school/TALIS-2013-Teacher-questionnaire.pdf.) The results for the United States, in comparison to industrialized nations, is summarized by Darling-Hammond (2014) to show that U.S. teachers:

a. work longer hours, have larger class sizes, and work harder and under much more challenging conditions. Given that nearly two-thirds of U.S. teachers serve students from low SES (this is the highest rate in the world and is more than three times the average rate), trying to close the opportunity to learn gap is only one of the many challenges for U.S. teachers since they must also attend to helping students and families who are coping with the myriad of problems such as hunger, drug abuse, and the like;

b. receive less useful feedback, less helpful professional development, and have less time to collaborate to improve their work. (Darling-Hammond coins this result as a product of the factory-model school designs of the early 1900s when time for planning and professional development were not valued because teachers teaching as much as possible was the goal for improving learning.)


Darling-Hammond (2014) then suggests recommendations for eliminating the opportunity gap based on the policies for the high-achieving nations. An adaptation of what she suggests is that the United States:

Create meaningful teacher evaluations that foster improvement: . . . American teachers found the feedback they received to be less useful for improving instruction than their peers elsewhere. Interestingly, they received much more of their feedback from busy principals . . . and much less from other teachers or assigned mentors . . . who can generally offer more targeted insights about how to teach specific curriculum concepts and students . . . The United States is the only country in which students are tested annually with external, multiple-choice standardized tests, with scores reduced to a value added metric assigned to teachers . . . they offer no information about what students actually did, said, or thought that could help teachers improve their practice;

Redesign schools to create time for collaboration: . . . We need to rethink how we invest in and organize schools, so that time for extended professional learning and collaboration become the norm rather than the exception;

Value teaching and teacher learning: . . . To recruit and retain top talent and enable teachers to help all children learn, we must make teaching an attractive profession that advances in knowledge and skill, like medicine and engineering.


Address inequities that undermine learning: . . . It is time for the U.S. finally to equalize school funding, address childhood poverty . . . [to] ensure children are supported to learn.


Questions 5-8 require action on Darling-Hammond’s recommendations. The education community has been wrestling with them for years—nothing new—but now with data explicitly naming them as the critical issues, will this lead to equitable allocation of resources necessary to address them?

Chapter 4 , question 5: How do we create meaningful professional development that foster improvement?

Chapter 4 , question 6: How do we redesign schools to create time for teacher collaboration?

Chapter 4 , question 7: How do we create a world where teaching and teachers are valued?

Chapter 4 , question 8: Specifically, what mechanism must be put into place so that we address the inequities that undermine learning?

My Thoughts on Question 5 on Meaningful Teacher Evaluations: Opfer (2016) analyzed TALIS to report on what teachers reported as effective professional development. She concludes that:

‘effective’ professional development that has an impact on teachers’ instructional practices are activities that take place in schools and allow teachers to work over time, in collaborative groups, on problems of practice. These types of activities are most likely to occur in schools that are characterised by co-operation amongst teachers and strong instructional leadership.


Although not named in the quote, the lesson study process precisely meets all of the criteria listed, including the type of school leadership. Lesson study is a process whereby a group of teachers collaboratively review student data to determine areas for focusing teaching to improve learning. The teachers collaborate to study research on best practices to address the problem and then create, teach, and observe a lesson in the classroom, followed by a revision of the lesson, called a research lesson. According to Lewis (2000), research lessons are observed by other teachers; planned for a long time, usually collaboratively; designed to bring to life in a lesson a particular goal or vision of education; recorded; and discussed (4-6). While the group’s research lesson observation and followup commentary provide feedback that teachers can immediately address, the greatest benefit of the process is in its impact on increasing teacher collaboration. For further details about the benefits of lesson study and of teachers putting it into practice, see Takahashi and Yoshida (2004), Lewis and Hurd (2011), Germain-McCarthy (2014, 2015).

My Thoughts on Question 6 to Promote Structures for Teacher Collaboration: Given that teachers describe the lesson study process as a form of effective professional development, teachers can be facilitated in their quest to initiate the practice if certain structures are in place in the school setting. The structures and practices described in question 5, together, are coined rol- laborative lesson research (CLR) by Takahashi and McDougal (2016). They specifically describe CLR as teachers participating in creating a clear research purpose—Kyouzai kenkyuu, which is a Japanese concept that requires the researching of materials and tools for the topic, as well as an analysis of where the topic fits in the curriculum. Teachers also discuss the types of misconceptions students may have with the topic and include ideas on how to address them; a written research proposal that describes the results together with ideas for creating the research lesson; a live research lesson and discussion; contributions by knowledgeable others who have an in-depth understanding of CLR and Standards-based teaching practices; finally, a process for sharing results (1). In order not to overwhelm teachers with extended meetings after school, it is clear that principal support for the process is critical so that teachers can participate in CLR during some portion of the school week.

My Thoughts on Question 7 for Valuing Teaching. Lee Iacocca said: “In a completely rational society, the best of us would aspire to be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and responsibility anyone could have” (http://wwwsparkenthusiasm.com/Teacher_ Resources.html). We know that too many of our best students are not choosing teaching because of its poor status in our society However, in our classes today are our best students of the future. I believe that we, as educators, can begin reversing this trend the very next time we meet with students. Indeed, we may be the only ones who can do that effectively Given that some schools still require students to start their day with the Pledge of Allegiance in the public schools or by praising our heavenly Father in parochial and some private schools, it would serve us well if students ended the school day by also praising their teachers (and heavenly Father, in the private schools). A simple Teacher Salute—such as, “I thank my teachers today for helping me to become a smarter and more peaceful and loving person”—may be very effective in dispelling the negative societal status of teachers by our students when they become the adults controlling our lives. However, the following is a caveat I learned from my 29-year-old son, Julian:

While having lunch with Julian, we said grace, as always, before enjoying the meal. Julian said a quick prayer that he made up in third grade and has used since. While he typically uses

it as a preamble and then praises our heavenly Father for current blessings, this time, he said it alone (must have been real hungry!). Because I was in the process of writing this chapter, I asked him to repeat it again because it included the words peace and love. He was taken aback and stuttered and tried a couple of words and finally said, “Mom, I can’t remember it like that. It has to be in context!”

Interestingly, I too, of course, have heard it many times but similarly could not immediately repeat it word-for-word. This is akin to having students give the answer to 8 x 7 when they have only learned to multiply by rote beginning with 1 x 7. But my point is this: Just as research recommends learning mathematics within a relevant and meaningful context to facilitate students’ learning and application of the material, so too the Teacher Salute should be meaningful and relevant. After the salute, we could make it meaningful daily by asking two or three random students to exemplify what they learned from their teachers for which they are grateful today. Such contributions by students may prompt them to go through the day mindful of their blessings as they determine whom they will acknowledge in class at the end of the day. It may well be that some may say, “Thank you, Mr./Ms._for being a fantastic teacher,” before the salute—let alone 40-plus years later!

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