Ned Stanley

Ned Stanley

Ned grew up in Salt Lake City and attended college at The American University of Paris, where he majored in comparative literature and creative writing. In France, he became a wine aficionado, particularly of those vintages priced below four euros a bottle. As a 2005 corps member in New York City, he taught English to a fantastic group of eighth graders at M.S. 301 in the South Bronx, and subsequently joined staff at Teach For America as a manager of teacher leadership development in New York. He went on to serve as a managing director for Teach For America • Chicago, where he led the elementary and humanities team. Now in San Francisco, Ned works as Teach For America's managing director of knowledge development and is proud to be contributing to the next iteration of Teaching As Leadership.

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Last week, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford published their latest study finding that, “the typical student in New Jersey charter schools gains more learning in a year than his or her traditional public school counterparts, about two months of additional gains in reading and three months in math.”  

Over the coming weeks, it’s sure to launch another salvo into the education debate as various camps line up their arguments for and against rapidly expanding the number of charter schools across the country.  Strap in—here we go again.

Photo by Rekishi-Japan via Wikimedia Commons

Listening to the presidential candidates on education last night was like listening to two friends talk about how they intended to fix up their house.  President Obama intends to throw new shingles on the roof with 100,000 new math and science teachers.  Governor Romney wants to replace the plumbing and let federal funding “follow the child.”  And they both agree that the new wood floors installed by their Race to the Top contractors look better than the old ones.

Except the house isn’t just in need of a fix-up.  The house is on fire.

Photo credit: KoS via Wikipedia Commons

During my sophomore year in high school, there was a period of three months where I genuinely wanted to be a trucker, much to the chagrin of my educator parents.  It may have been typical teenage angst, and it was certainly the fact that I had been reading a lot of Jack Kerouac, but I romanticized the idea of endless open roads and distant horizons and baseball games playing on half-working pit-stop television sets.

Now I cross the country for an entirely different reason. Over the past year, I’ve visited a dozen cities to talk to teachers in and outside our organization about improving our leadership framework.  And I always start these conversations with the same question: “What are your ultimate aspirations for our students?”  Invariably at some point a debate ignites about whether we should really be striving to ensure every single one of our students goes to and through a four-year college.

During a recent conversation with the teachers in Champaign, Illinois, someone made a statement that I’ve heard many times before:  “Not all kids want to go to college.  We should embrace free will.”

It isn’t that I disagree—my Teamster-aspirations fifteen years earlier are testament to that—but I’m always disturbed by this sentiment.  The night before, I had seen the graphc above on Andrew Sullivan’s blog depicting job losses in the recession, based on a new report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

Infographic from TNTP showing that 10,000 irreplaceable teachers in the 50 largest districts leave their districts or leave teaching.Last week TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project) released its new report, "The Irreplaceables," which examines the failure of our education system to retain teachers who have the greatest impact on raising student achievement. As the Huffington Post notes, the report is bound to make waves and drive policy initiatives over the coming year. It was publicized with a ringing endorsement by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and in many ways is a sequel to TNTP’s other seminal report, "The Widget Effect," which is credited with influencing the Department of Education’s Race to the Top competition.

"The Irreplaceables" is pragmatic in its analysis and presentation of solutions. In the four urban districts the researchers surveyed, they found that the 20% of teachers who are most successful in raising student achievement (dubbed the “irreplaceables”) are leaving the profession at almost identical levels to the lowest performing teachers.  But TNTP also learned that three out of four of these top teachers would remain in their schools if their top concerns—ranging from school culture to public recognition—were addressed. 

There’s already a great deal of discussion about the report’s policy implications: the same arguments that have been raised for and against teacher tenure, merit pay, and evaluation models will be debated again. But let’s go beyond pragmatism and talk blue sky.  Something is rotten in our country’s perception of teachers, and it has to change before we'll see a true revolution in the results—both the quality of the overall teaching population and student outcomes. 

The Huffington Post recently reported that cash-strapped states are having trouble enacting President Obama’s call to raise the high school dropout age to eighteen. Despite political will for the initiative, its high cost has made it a non-starter in legislatures across the country.

Reuters–US

This lack of action is hardly surprising from states and municipalities that are still struggling economically, despite the fact that dozens of studies have shown that kids who dropout are at much higher risk of incarceration, teen pregnancy, and drug use.  Yet it strikes me that whatever financial hit raising the dropout age to 18 would have on state coffers, it surely pales in comparison to the $320 billion of economic potential that is lost each year as a result of students dropping out.

So why the short-sightedness?

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