Sunday, November 20, 2011

Superintendent Luna’s Opening Remarks as President of CCSSO

The following are remarks Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna gave after he took over as President of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) at the CCSSO Annual Policy Forum on November 19, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Thank you so much for being here today.  It is an honor to serve as the President of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

First, I want to thank Chris Koch for his leadership as President.  Whether it’s the advancements we made in the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, the amazing influence we have had in the waiver process and the reauthorization bill that is working its way through congress as we speak, or the fact that we are working on the next generation of assessments and accountability, we owe a great debt of gratitude to Chris for his leadership during this time.

At the same time, we were all back in our states dealing with what is arguably the most difficult economic situation our country has faced in our lifetimes, Chris was back dealing with the same things but also all these other successes we have had at CCSSO.  Chris, thank you so much again for your work.

As state chiefs, we have led the way.  That is the way it should be.  As states, we should identify the problems we face, find the solutions to these problems, and define the federal government’s role – if any – in helping us solve these problems.

We have shown we can do this. We have addressed problems with higher standards through Common Core, with new assessments through our consortia, and increased accountability systems.  All of these are critical and absolutely necessary if we are going to improve our education system, but there is one piece that is missing that I think we need to respond to now and act upon now.

That is, do we have the capacity to meet the demands of the Common Core, to respond to the information we will receive from the new assessments?  Do we have the capacity with the workforce that we have, especially when we are facing a teacher shortage in the future, and so we know that this is one important part that is critical and it’s missing.  It’s the most important part.

We know that the most important part of a child’s academic success is the quality of the teacher in the classroom.  World-class standards, quality assessments, high accountability are important and necessary but all of these things are secondary to having a highly effective teacher in every classroom.

Together, we must tackle the challenge of teacher quality and teacher preparation programs.  We know that teachers are not the problem, they are the solution.  The challenge we face today in teacher quality is a problem with preparing our teachers for the 21st Century Classroom.

Each year, we discuss the challenge of our students graduating from high school and going to postsecondary education and needing remediation once they get there.  We are all working to solve this problem.

An equally large problem is the fact that far too many teachers are graduating from our Colleges of Education and going into the classroom and needing additional training once they get there.  I have heard – and have often repeated – that our graduates of the Colleges of Education are the most knowledgeable but the least prepared.  The fact is we are spending too much money every year training teachers on the skills they should have learned while in college.

This is not the fault of the pre-service student or the teacher in the classroom.  This is the result of antiquated teacher preparation programs and outdated certification processes.  We must address teacher quality before our teachers get into the classroom and begin teaching our students.

We know that the teacher is the MOST important factor in a student’s academic success.  This is not debatable. Just look at the impact a teacher can have on a student’s academic success.  I turn to the research of Dr. Robert Marzano.  He is an expert in education research and teacher quality.
His study looked at millions of students, thousands of schools, and numerous years.

This shows what happens to the average student – a student in the 50th percentile – depending on his/her learning experience.  If a student arrives at school with average academic achievement, has an average teacher and an average principal in the school, that student will leave school just as they came in – in the 50th percentile.

What if that same student arrived at school and had an effective principal and effective teacher?  The student would excel significantly and leave in the 96th percentile.  Now, consider if that same student arrives at a school with an ineffective teacher and an ineffective principal.  That student will drop from the 50th percentile to around the 3rd percentile.  This statistic is shocking and disturbing – but it’s real.

It’s clear: the effectiveness of a principal and a teacher has a huge impact on student achievement.  We know that once a student falls behind academically, it is difficult and sometimes almost impossible for him to catch up in the current system.  We cannot even risk one year in a student’s academic career.

Knowing this, why would we ever leave this to chance?  As a father, grandfather, and as State Superintendent, I am not going to leave this to chance.  I believe we must do everything we can to ensure a highly effective teacher is at the helm of every classroom.

It begins with our teacher preparation programs.

Secretary Duncan has called for the reform of Colleges of Education.  He said: “The current system that prepares our nation's teachers offers no guarantees of quality for anyone – from the college students themselves who borrow thousands of dollars to attend teacher preparation programs, to the districts, schools, parents, and, mostly importantly, the children that depend on good teachers to provide a world-class education.

“It is stunning to me that, for decades, teacher preparation programs have had no feedback loop to identify where their programs prepare students well for the classroom and where they need to improve. Our teacher prep programs have operated largely in the dark, without access to meaningful data that tells them how effective their graduates are in the classroom.”

But Secretary Duncan has called for reform to these programs for more than two years now.  That’s two years. To me, it’s clear then if change is going to occur and be sustained then states must take the lead.  We would not have the world class standards we have today or the work on the next generation of assessments without the states taking the lead. We must lead in this most important area.
 
We do have places to look as we begin this conversation and embark on this process. CCSSO’s Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) has developed Model Core Teaching Standards.  The Administration recently published its Teacher Education Reform and Improvement plan.  The National Council on Teacher Quality has conducted extensive research on what makes an effective teacher.  I have heard positive examples of reforms to Colleges of Education in Louisiana, Michigan, Indiana, and other states.

If we want this reform and this change to be widespread and meaningful in every state across the country, we as state chiefs have to step up and make a concerted effort together just as we did with the Common Core. We have to move from conversation on teacher quality to make the change we know needs to happen.  Through CCSSO, we can provide that focus, support and motivation necessary to move forward.  
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As state leaders, we have to find the answers to 3 major questions.

First, what do our students need in a 21st Century teacher?  We know we want every teacher to be highly effective.  In order for our students to succeed in the 21st Century, what does the highly effective need to know and be able to do?  I believe a highly effective teacher in the 21st Century Classroom must be able to gather and analyze data and adapt to the results.  The 21st Century Teacher must be able to utilize distance learning and digital content to give students access to the opportunities they need and make lessons come alive.  In the 21st Century Classroom, a teacher must be able to manage a roomful of learners versus a room full of students.  In other words, if we want our students to be problem solvers and critical thinkers, we have to create an environment that allows them to explore, solve problems, and think critically.  The 21st Century Teachers must be able to facilitate this.

Second, what standards should be in place for our teacher preparation programs?  These standards should not be limited to our Colleges of Education.  We need to set high standards for any entity that wants to train teachers – whether it is a College of Education, Teacher for America, or ABCTE.  We will hold them accountable through a transparent evaluation process.
We must ask ourselves every year: How well is a teacher performing and where did that teacher attend pre-service?  If an organization can meet the high standards and the high level of accountability we put in place, then they can teach our students.

Third, what should the certification process look like?  We must move away from talking about traditional certification vs. alternate certification.  Instead, let’s talk about certification.  We should create the framework for a single certification process that all teachers can use – no matter where they were trained.  It will ensure they have met the high standards we have set for them in content and in pedagogy.  And it will hold the teacher preparation organization accountable for results.

As we work to answer each of these questions, here are some of the things we know must be part of our conversation going forward.  First, selectivity.  We all agree that teaching is a difficult profession and worthy profession.  Therefore, we must raise the bar for those who want to go into teaching.

Second, a focus on elementary reading and mathematics.  We know our students will need a strong foundation in reading and a strong foundation in math to be successful in the 21st Century.  That foundation begins in elementary school.  Once pre-service students are in our teacher preparation programs, we must ensure they are not only learning the academics of reading and mathematics, but the science behind teaching these subject areas.  

Finally, student teaching.  Student teaching programs must be rigorous and relevant.
They must prepare our future teachers for the classroom they will manage as soon as they graduate.  We have to ensure every student teacher is placed in the classroom of a highly effective teacher.  Just as we did with the Common Core, we must develop set of common performance standards and then measure the effectiveness of the student teaching program against the standards.

These are all challenges we face and challenges we must address if we expect to improve our public education systems across the country.  We have to look at pockets of excellence and find answers to our questions:

  • What do our students need in a 21st Century teacher?
  • What standards should be in place for our teacher preparation programs?
  • What should the certification process look like? 

If we do this, then our Colleges of Education and teacher preparation organizations will be able to truly prepare our teachers to be successful in the 21st Century Classroom – without needing remediation once they get there.  In the coming weeks, we will be engaging you in talks to move from discussion to action, and I am confident that like the Common Core success we as states can develop common standards for certification and licensure. This is how we can truly ensure a highly effective teacher in every classroom for every student.

In closing, I attended a meeting awhile back where the keynote speaker said if you want to get access to somebody’s mind, you start with the heart.  So let me share with you a piece of my heart, and what motivates me to do this.  When I ran for the local school board in Nampa, I had a successful business.  We were a happy young family with six children in school.  I didn’t run for the school board to reform education. I ran for the school board because they told me it would only be one night a month, and I believed them.

But as I got more and more involved in education, I began to realize that access to the American Dream was tied more today to a quality education than ever before.  You see, I was one of those kids who came to school a little hungry and a little tired. I lived in a tent for awhile.  There were some teachers that were wonderful individuals with big hearts and a lot of compassion, but they knew my family situation and made excuses for me.  They didn’t expect as much from me.  Then, there were other teachers who knew my family circumstances yet they expected just as much from me as they did any child.  They convinced me that regardless of where I came from, regardless of the spelling of my last name, I was just as smart, just as capable, and I had just as much hope or opportunity in America as anyone.  You know what? I believed them.

Because of them, because of these great teachers, my brothers and sisters and I now live a version of the American Dream that my parents could not have even imagined.  I honor teachers.  I respect them and the work that they do, and I realize on a personal level the important role they will play in giving hope to those who feel like there is no hope and providing opportunity to those who feel like opportunity may have passed them by.

I am honored to serve as your President this coming year.  I think the work that we can do and accomplish on teacher preparation is the capstone to the work that we have been focused on these past few years as CCSSO has become a leader in setting policy and direction and priority for education across the country.

Thank you.

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