Under-resourced schools and low-paid teachers are not the answer to a well-educated populace, said Dr. Mari Koerner, dean of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University during a recent conference in Tucson.
Koerner’s keynote presentation on June 10 kicked off the Summer Leadership Institute sponsored by Arizona School Boards Association.
“We have to think about what defines an educator or a leader,” said Koerner, who is known nationally for her research on teacher preparation. “Who should we keep in the profession? And how can we measure them?”
What’s the answer to magical thinking?
“My answer is let’s look at curiosity. Let’s look at creativity. Let’s look at caring. And let’s look at courage,” Koerner said.
Koerner called out state legislators for their magical thinking “that a complicated job may be reduced down to outcomes that can be measured on one day, by one test, and in one time and that they can determine the career and reputation of teachers.”
Instead teachers should be evaluated on things “that make them most effective at their jobs and the things that will provide the right incentives, the right resources and the right information to help them get better,” Koerner said.
“We are not trying to get people out, we are trying to get them to be better,” Koerner said.
Koerner began her education career as an early childhood educator when she was 19 years old. After graduating from college, she taught second grade on the West Side of Chicago.
After Koerner earned her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Illinois at Chicago, served on the faculty and administration at Roosevelt University in Chicago and University of Massachusetts in Boston, and was appointed a professor and dean of the College of Teacher Education and Leadership at Arizona State University’s West campus in July 2006 and has served as dean of ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College since 2010.
Education’s importance to mankind
This is key, because education is the bedrock of democracy, Koerner said.
Adults have a responsibility to make the world a better place for them, Koerner said.
“We imagine a world that is more beautiful than ugly, more accepting than discriminatory, more democratic than oppressive, more humane than dehumanizing, and we know that this will make us better,” Koerner said.
Arizona by the numbers
“First, let’s look at the context of Arizona, because it’s good to see where you are, what’s going on and what we’re doing,” Koerner said. “This gives you an idea of our size. This is a big enterprise.”
Where is Arizona in terms of top educational achievement?
“When you look to the second to the last column where Hispanic is compared to White or if you look the second the last column with the fourth group – Asian – you can see the disparity,” Koerner said.
“Since 2004, the majority of children in public schools in Arizona are Hispanic, and they are not achieving,” Koerner said.
It’s important to close the achievement gap and provide students with the resources they need to succeed, Koerner said.
“We cannot increasingly think the answer is lets segregate kids, lets segregate neighborhoods, and worry about how there isn’t equal attainment,” Koerner said.
Where does Arizona stand nationally?
Then Koerner compared Arizona – ranked 48th among the states in per pupil spending according to the most recent U.S. Census data – to Massachusetts ranked 7th in the nation in per pupil spending.
“Massachusetts is a very interesting state. They equalized across districts resources in terms of money,” Koerner said. “Also when they (Massachusetts) presented a new state test to measure skills, a lot of kids failed it and they didn’t change the cut score. They kept it, and they improved schools to educate kids well enough to pass it.”
When Arizona’s enrollment trends are compared to Massachusetts, again it’s diversity, Koerner said.
“This tells you that we have more opportunities – if you believe in the rock-bottom values of the United States. It also tells you we have more challenges,” Koerner said.
When select indicators – not achievement tests – are compared in the next chart, “the bigger the column, the worse the news,” Koerner said.
“Now the data about the preschool is really important, because do you know what the one biggest predictor of success in school is when a child enters? Vocabulary,” Koerner said. “And where many children learn vocabulary – actually in preschool. Our lack of public support of preschool is a concern for all schools.”
What does it mean for us? And what does it mean for the 21st century?
Segregation rises in Arizona
“We need to reduce segregation, which has been on the rise. It means designing accountability systems that help teachers improve their craft. And making working in high-need schools more attractive. There’s a very low retention rate in high-need schools,” Koerner said.
AZEdNews Video: Dr. Mari Koerner at ASBA’s Summer Leadership Institute
“Who wants to suggest to a child that we should limit their education? Who is that? What district does that?” Koerner said.
Yet, there are districts that get more unprepared teachers and lower resources, Koerner noted.
“Who are the kids that don’t deserve it? Kids whose first language isn’t English? Kids who are in special needs?” Koerner said.
“Who are we picking to be in the less potential, less successful group? And right now we are. Don’t kid yourself,” Koerner said. “We aren’t doing it intentionally I don’t think, but it’s happening.”
This affects all of us, not just because we live in a democracy, but because we have moral integrity, Koerner said.
Teaching is changing
Whoever enters teaching now will determine the future of schools, Koerner said.
“The world in which teachers do their work is profoundly changing,” Koerner said.
The future of the 21st century should not rest “on the shoulders of teachers who are unskilled in teaching and whose priorities should be to mainly maintain order in their classrooms, teach to the test and follow a standardized curriculum,” Koerner said.
“If we buy into the idea that public education can only be a low-cost system built on a teaching workforce who is de-skilled and low-paid and who are not thought of as smart enough to be treated as professionals, then who will be interested in coming into this profession? And who will be ready for the knowledge society?” Koerner said.
Instead, “we in this room have to be advocates for high-investment, high-capacity educational system in which highly skilled teachers believe that the sky is the limit for themselves, and their students and their communities,” Koerner said.
What’s next for Koerner and direction of teaching?
Koerner will step down as dean of ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College on August 1, 2016, but she will remain on the faculty of the college and serve as the founding director of the college’s Center for the Art and Science of Teaching (CAST).
While colleges of education have traditionally focused on learning as the object of rigorous study, there is an under-utilized body of research and knowledge about teaching, Koerner said.
“Our goal at CAST is to foreground teaching. There is much that is known – and much that is yet to be discovered – about teaching in and out of school,” Koerner said. “We want to see how experience and inquiry can help us improve teacher-prep programs and, by extension, K-12 education generally.”
Students and teachers must reach beyond rote learning and acceptable test results to pursue a world-changing, life-changing social mission, Koerner said.
For example, right now there are 30 countries that experience water stress or have no running water coming to people’s homes, and by 2065 that number is expected to increase to 56 countries, Koerner said.
Students need to be able to solve problems like finding affordable ways to bring water to people’s homes, so young children and their mothers don’t have to walk two hours to fill a bucket with water and another two hours to get back home.
“Solving this crisis is more than figuring out one answer. You have to include geology, hydrology, economics, sociology, history, politics, and look at the challenge from multiple points of view,” Koerner said.
Simple multiple-choice tests will not measure that kind of knowledge, instead “our frames and references must be expansive and adaptive,” Koerner said.