Policy Recommendations on the 20th Anniversary of the Einstein Fellowship

Today Albert Einstein Fellows will be visiting the offices of Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to discuss the importance of having teachers involved in public policy. After the conclusion of our Summit at the Wilson Center, we developed a one page document of policy recommendations to distribute. The text of that document follows.

The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellows, some of the nation’s leading educators, gathered in Washington, DC on June 28-29, 2010, for a 20th Anniversary Summit.  Hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Summit brought together more than 80 current and former Einstein Fellows along with distinguished guest speakers from the White House, Federal agencies, national education organizations, and the U.S. Congress.  The goal of the Summit was to generate recommendations to inform and improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. The Summit covered a variety of educational issues, including national curriculum standards, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and educational equity.

Recommendations of the Einstein Fellows:

  • Support initiatives to enable school systems to implement innovative teaching practices in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
  • Increase funding for Pre-K-12 education, especially programs that impact each child as opposed to competitive grants.  Federal funding is vital to the maintenance and development of STEM programs in states and districts.
  • Establish national standards for science education and support provisions in the reauthorization of ESEA that give equal treatment to science as to mathematics and language arts. Science knowledge and skills, as part of a comprehensive STEM approach, are vital for all students and provide 21st Century workforce skills, promote national security and global competitiveness.
  • Include K-12 teachers, such as Einstein Fellows, in the formulation of professional development or curriculum.  The real world experience of classroom teachers is an overlooked asset when new programs are developed.
  • Base school and student assessment on multiple measures and formative assessments.
  • Create and fund a program to place science specialists to teach and coach in elementary schools.  Elementary schools can benefit from the presence of competent STEM teachers who also have skills in working with K-12 students.  They can teach STEM and also model effective strategies as instructional coaches.
  • Support legislation that encourages research-based instruction and teacher training.
  • Support federal programs to purchase science equipment and provide STEM training to teachers at the K-6 grade levels.  This will enable the delivery of inquiry-based, hands-on science experiences.
  • Establish guidelines to ensure all administrators are competent and knowledgeable in STEM education.  Student success and instructional quality depends on strong school leadership.
  • Support initiatives and funding to enable states and districts to lengthen the school day or school year.

Using Psychology to Solve Education Woes

Richard Nisbett authored an opinion piece in the New York Times on February 7, discussing what he saw as common sense approaches to improving education. The piece is not without merits, and is worth reading, but also requires a response:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/opinion/08nisbett.html?scp=2&sq=education&st=cse

While I agreed with some of the discussion of psychological effects on testing data and student performance, there were two main issues about this piece that were particularly bothersome to me.

1) Assessment is not learning. The piece discusses “very small influences” that can have “very large effects.” But the majority of the discussion is about psyching kids up to perform on tests. It’s not about instruction, or improving conditions in schools, or protecting student safety. While you don’t want to psychologically harm students through your instructional practices, there are limits to the degree of achievement that can be achieved through changes of perspective and attitude. I’m not opposed to maximizing the benefits of good psychology, I just don’t believe it’s an adequate replacement for fundamental educational improvements.

So now you psyched up all the kids in America to take the tests, they believe that they will succeed. Now, can you convince students that their class is smaller, so they can benefit from that? Can you talk them into believing that their school is safe and well-maintained when it’s not. Can you convince them that their inequitable access to education resources is fair and just? Undoubtedly, techniques such as this will have a negligibly limited effect, like other attempts at gaming the system in the long run,because in time, all schools tend to implement the measures that work to manipulate test data. Once all students are equally persuaded of their test-taking acumen, we need a new way to bridge the achievement gap.

2) Efficiency. We talk a lot about the efficiency of our education dollars, getting the most bang for our buck. But most social services are not effective when optimized for efficiency that is strictly financial. We are not efficient in many other aspects of Federal and State spending, but when it comes to K-12, hairs are split over the tiniest of details. In higher education, they might have to decide between marble and granite for the facade on fitness center. In K-12, we may have to decide that we can only afford one hour a day of instructional assistants in kindergarten classes of 35.

Any discussion of efficiency in education spending needs to occur AFTER a discussion of adequacy and minimums. I believe in many schools, in many districts, we have never provided adequacy, and any talk of being more efficient is premature.

Let’s talk about efficiency. Let’s end waste. Let’s stop wasting the potential in youth that could be achieved with proper investment, and proper attention. The limited resources allocated to some students in this nation, especially the poor, is wasteful and irresponsible.