Teachers must take a more proactive role in overhauling a public school system that is ill-equipped to prepare today’s students for the demands of an increasingly competitive global economy, University of Pennsylvania professor and lecturer Ted Hershberg warned education leaders on the opening day of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s (ASCD’s) national conference in Orlando April 2.

Hershberg, who also serves as executive director for Operation Public Education, a research group that develops strategies for education reform, was one of a handful of distinguished educators to use the challenges of the 21st century as a catalyst for reform during the first day of this three-day annual event focused on helping schools achieve the “power, passion, and promise” of education.

While educators today have at their disposal more resources than ever before, Hershberg says, schools still are not taking full advantage of technology to make efficient and effective use of educational data–from measuring student performance to gauging the overall effectiveness of classroom teachers. As a result, he said, the United States is in danger of ceding its economic prominence to other, more aggressive nations–most notably, India and China, whose workers offer the same–if not, better–skills at a fraction of the cost.

Though our education system has worked well in the past, Hershberg says, the increasing presence of technology and the demands of a new century have made it nearly impossible for teachers to rely on what has become an outdated approach to teaching and learning.

“Our schools were good for the past,” he explained. But we cannot expect “an old system to produce new results. … It’s time to get on with the process of change and stop blaming each other.”

Rather, educators “have to make a significant investment in a whole new way of doing school,” he said, cautioning that the federal No Child Left Behind Act alone is not going to get the job done.

Though he credits the four-year-old law for prompting educators to think seriously about student achievement, Hershberg says, it’s not enough to simply gauge students success based on adequate-yearly-progress. Where NCLB focuses on yearly benchmarks and a battery of test results, Hershberg wants schools to raise the bar on student achievement even higher, taking the data that’s collected and using it to implement more effective reforms.

Dubbed “value-added assessment,” Hershberg’s preferred approach to effective data use in schools seeks to measure individual student progress over time, rather than the progress of large groups of students on an annual basis, as is the case with NCLB.

Developed by a statistician named William Sanders for use in Tennessee, the alternative approach has been adopted for statewide use in Pennsylvania and Ohio and is currently in use in more than 300 school districts across the nation, according to OPE literature.

Under the “value-added” approach, schools are asked to keep track of individual student data year-over-year for a period of no less than three years. After this time, educators and schools are encouraged to use the information collected to measure the effect of curricula, professional development, and pedagogy on overall student achievement. The idea being that schools can glean a better understanding from the data when they are collected and studied on an individual basis year-over-year, as opposed to yearly based on grade level.

This way, Hershberg says, educators have information to share back and forth, allowing them to better target instruction to meet the individual needs of students.

“Teachers need to be able to compare patterns to solve problems,” he said of the system. It’s about starting a conversation across grade levels “to improve craft.”

Breaking data out year-over-year also enables administrators to see which groups of students are struggling in what classes and to make deductions about the effectiveness of certain teachers, he said. In some cases, it might even enable them to provide more targeted professional development, thus helping less effective teachers connect with more students.

“Struggling students are disproportionately in classrooms with ineffective instruction,” he said. “If you don’t get help to the teachers who need it, you’re always going to be dealing with these problems.”

Of course, changing the way data are collected and used is only the beginning.

“Value-added is just a thermometer,” Hershberg said. To make use of the information, educators have to band together to help create effective change. From philosophy to practice, data are only as good as the teachers who use them to get results.

In short, “you don’t make a cow fatter simply by weighing it,” Hershberg pointed out. While benchmarks help identify a learner’s strengths and weaknesses, he said, they do not make him or her any smarter in that process. That job still belongs to the teacher.

“Never think of value-added itself as a panacea,” Hershberg said. “You’ve got to do something with the data.”

While the internet and eMail have changed the nature of work, Hershberg said, schools have been slow to adopt strategies that encourage teachers to change the nature of their teaching.

Rather then continuing to reward teachers based on a pay scale that honors seniority over classroom effectiveness, Hershberg calls on schools to use data to create the kind of performance-based review system more commonly used in the corporate ranks.

“We need to greatly expand the role of teachers by holding them accountable and giving them more of a say about what goes on inside their own classrooms,” Hershberg said, adding that “we’re not going to reform our public schools by treating teachers like laborers.”

Editor’s note: For more on ASCD’s annual conference be sure and check back with eSN Online throughout the weekend. We’ll feature coverage and session reviews from your peers as well as daily reports from the conference floor.

Links:

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
http://www.ascd.org