Education & School · Organizational Change & Development

10 Lessons in Changing Systems From Arthur Levine

Arthur Levine: Lessons Learned About Teacher Education from EdWriters on Vimeo.

Teacher training is not normalized – it’s different from state to state, college to college.  Reformers are stuck with the dilema that it has never quite landed on a clear, completely-accepted model.  Teacher training is stuck between being more like medical school (many years, high intensity, graduate level) , more like trade school (less time, more about practicality, at or around undergrad level), or something else entirely.  It’s a fascinating discussion and few are as bold about the problems and solutions with pre-service teacher training as Arthur Levine.

In October 2012, Arthur Levine, notably of the Education Schools Project and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, gave this keynote address at the National Education Writer’s Association conference, emphasizing the need for a consistent, more-rigorous, pre-service training strategy for teachers at education schools and shares lessons they have learned in trying to address this need.  Among these lesson was a need to “(focus) on whole states” to achieve systemic change.

He begins by showcasing the problem.  Research shows that, he explains:

“(teacher) preparation is inadequate … the curriculum is in disarray … we don’t agree upon how you educate (teachers) … the faculty are disconnected, they are not connected to arts and sciences, they are not connected to schools, practice is disconnected from theory, admissions standards are low, and there is insufficient quality control” 

Levine calls us to combat this issue and to change education schools “from ivory towers to professional schools” in three ways:

  1. Focus on classroom practice.  The primary measure of success ought to be student achievement.
  2. Establish effective mechanisms to ensure quality in pre-service training.  Close down bad programs.
  3. Better quality-control on the part of creditors and the states.
WWNFF logo
Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation logo (source: http://www.woodrow.org/)

The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation is taking on this challenge in one program aimed at transforming higher education – the place where the majority of teachers get their training.  They are attempting to make change to the entire pre-service process in a single state (so he says in the video … however I failed to find a references for this.  Anyone else?).

Here’s what they have learned, Levine explains, in attempting to change this education subsystem (with my paraphrasing and additions):

  1. Focus on whole states if you want systemic change.  The higher you go in this hierarchical system, the fewer people are required to make big changes.  This also implies that to make change it is best to aim for as many leverage points as possible in the system.  What use is to change one school without changing all the old, existing connections keeping that school in it’s old ways?
  2. Build a coalition that includes the Governor, legislators, state agency executives, universities, unions, schools and businesses.  This is because (1) a coalition last longer than an individual organization’s effort, (2) they have the capacity to make decisions and (3) they can be incredible pressure group.
  3. Be explicit.  Ask, “what kind of change do you want to make?” The more detailed the better as it is easier to evaluate and to strategize toward.
  4. It takes time. The first 18-21 months is only enough to get Levine’s program started in a state.  3 years is what they are finding is enough to see real change.  That time frame is likely to be a barrier for many organizations, so money and energy are also big investments.
  5. Require partnerships. Tie school districts and universities together.  Go beyond what has been traditionally done. These partnerships can be “carrots” to incent change.
  6. Focus on the whole university.  Because this change may come at a loss of one program, it’s significant to note the gains it may equally bring about in another area of the university.  Internalize all of the losses and gains and it’s easier to move resources where they are needed.
  7. Get skin in the game.  People are more likely to give of themselves, their positions and their organizations if you give yourself.  This goes for when you are sharing a vision, expecting buy-in to your own visions and is a common way to “lead by example”.
  8. Demand accountability.  This usually speaks for itself, but I will add that the greater the difference between what you “say you will do” and what you “actually do” the greater the chance of failure as a group project.
  9. No pilots. “If you want change, it had got to be replacement”.  Nudging change and doing pilot programs is less likely to bring about revolutionary change (like that experienced by Mike Johnston in my previous post).  New schools, new systems, entirely revised and replaced.  Being that this seems like such a risky prospect it is no surprise that it is not often done in the public sphere.  It’s like any industry: look to the private sector for many of the innovations and risk-taking while the public sector is meant to be steady and slow to change.  That being said, I don’t undertand completely why Levine is hard on this point as their statewide efforts seem to be what I would call a “pilot” in themselves.  Maybe that’s more of a matter of semantics.  Oh well.
  10. Third-party, evidence-based assessments. They are a minority that can evaluate their own programs as adequately as a third party would.  For most projects and for most of us: there is no better way to evaluate than third-party, evidence-based assessments.

Time will tell how this effort pans out – but it’s easy to predict that pre-service teacher training will be different in 10 years because of the success and failure of experimental systems-change programs such as this one.

Q: How would you apply these principles to other systemic change?  Do these work to change one school?  One program?  Or are they only relevant to this situation?

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