Jal Mehta writes: One central challenge in American education is building more expertise in teaching. In recent years we have tended to think about this in terms of rating individual teachers, but what if we were to step back and see it more as a systemic issue, in terms of how well the field is organized to promote the development of expertise in teaching? Presumably the development of expertise is a two part equation: the development of knowledge that would guide work in a field, and then helping practitioners gain that knowledge, either during their training or on the job. ...


Jal Mehta wrtes: One problem with the school reform debate today is the way we cut the debate. One common way of pitching the problem is as "hard" versus "soft." In this telling, valor is awarded to those willing to make "hard" decisions: these people support merit pay, firing bad teachers, holding schools accountable, and closing failing schools. On the other side, from this point of view, are those who are "soft": people who are opposed to measuring outcomes, who in theory want to empower teachers but in practice want to support a failing status quo. Alternative certification and charter ...


Jal Mehta writes: I was at a conference last spring sponsored by a group of foundations seeking to chart a new path for educational improvement. During that conference, a law professor who I deeply respect suggested that our reform efforts needed to remember the "Bad Man" theory. What's that, a number of us asked? It's a principle of jurisprudence, he explained, invented by Oliver Wendell Holmes that says that when making policy we should always be cognizant of the "bad man." The bad man is the man who always seeks to circumvent the policymakers' intent, looking for loopholes or other ...


Jal Mehta writes: The American school system assumed its contemporary form a little more than a century ago in the Progressive Era. In one generation, between 1890 and 1920, the modern school system was created by a group of civic elites, who transformed a nation of one-room schoolhouses into a set of district school systems. Influenced by prevailing Taylorist models of business organization, superintendents (mostly male) were empowered as CEOs of the school system, and teachers (mostly female) were expected to follow the rules and programs their superiors chose. In this hierarchical model, teachers possessed little power to formally resist ...


Eric Westendorf writes: Done thoughtfully, professional development and curriculum are two sides of the same coin. The curriculum is the external facing side; the set of organized resources and lessons that a teacher can use with students. Professional development is the internal side; the deep practice that teachers participate in to adjust, improve, and test new adaptations, the best of which get pushed to the external. As a result, the curriculum can evolve as quickly as possible to meet the needs of the environment.


Eric Westendorf writes: Much of the current buzz around EdTech in K-12 focuses on personalization, adaptation, gamification and self-directed learning. I think these ideas have great potential, but miss EdTech's greatest benefit. Given the siloed world in which teachers have historically worked, I believe EdTech's greatest contribution will come from connecting teachers, enabling them to build from best practices, collaborate with colleagues, and share with the world. In so doing, technology will bolster the most powerful lever we have for school improvement -- the talent of our teachers.


Guest blogger Eric Westendorf writes: As schools and districts across the country implement the Common Core State Standards, the need to provide high quality professional development for teachers has never been greater. Yet, despite the more than $3 billion invested annually in teacher PD, few in our industry would say the money is well spent. If you've ever observed a typical PD session, it's obvious why: undifferentiated "sit and listen" sessions abound, requiring little engagement from teachers and generating few personal insights as a result. To improve teacher PD, we need to shift to a talent development model


Whew! It's been a hectic couple months in Washington. Shutdowns, massive web glitches, WWII veterans storming memorials. I need a bit of a breather. More to the point, I've got a new book out and am due to spend a good chunk of the month running around and talking to folks about Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age. The upshot: I'm going to take a few weeks respite from blogging. We'll have three weeks of guest blogs and then return to regularly scheduled programming during Thanksgiving week.


We're bombarded these days with enthusiastic accounts of "digital learning." The stuff is cool, but the excitement is a little disconcerting given that educational technology always seems be ripe with promise, yet has rarely delivered. Now, some view this checkered history and conclude that technology just can't help that much when it comes to schooling--that Horace Mann's schoolhouse was schooling as God intended. A lot more take a look at schooling, and then blithely figure they've finally cracked the code. I think both schools of thought are wrong. The truth is that today's education technology does hold immense promise, but ...


There are a lot of ed tech providers out there. Some don't impress, but others offer products and services that really do offer new capabilities and opportunities for students, teachers, and parents. Bror and I make note of many of these in the course of Breakthrough Leadership -- and one of those is ClassDojo, which is helping teachers and parents use tech to tackle soft skills. Last week, I had the chance to chat again with co-founder Sam Chaudhary about what's been going on with Class Dojo (you can find a Straight Up interview with him from last fall here).


The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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