Textbook Teacher: Are increased demands pushing the head of clas - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Textbook Teacher: Are increased demands pushing the head of class to head across the border?

 Eau Claire (WQOW)-  We hold teachers to a certain standard, and many of us would admit it's because we want the very best for our kids.  Andrea Albers and Steve Betchkal examine what it takes to become a teacher in Wisconsin and how that very process may be pushing our best and brightest out of our school districts.  

 The classroom is no place for the unskilled or untrained, but it's exactly where Mary Claire Sekel wants to land. "My mom is a teacher, my grandpa is a teacher, I'm kind of 3rd generation," says Sekel.  "I just love kids in general so to help them learn and achieve and find success, is something that's important to me." Mary Claire is a model teaching candidate. She's bright. She's energetic, and she's trained at UWEC, but the National Center for Teacher Quality says Wisconsin is failing her and her flock of 1st graders. Annually the organization reviews each state law, rule and regulation that shapes the effectiveness of the teaching profession. In 2013 the dairy state earned a D+.  But don't reach for the dunce cap just yet. The coming year could be corrective for Wisconsin.

In a world ruled by tech: ipad, ipod, imovie, text, the kind printed on paper, is still sovereign in school. That's black and white.  But sometimes, 

who writes the book on teaching is not. Pearson Prentice-Hall is one of the major corporate players in school textbooks. It's also a prominent partner in a pilot teaching initiative in Wisconsin and across the U.S. the edTPA.

"It stands for teacher performance assessment," explains Dr. Carmen Manning, Dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences at UWEC. The motivation behind edTPA is a real professionalizing notion."

Teaching candidates are submitted to many evaluative hurdles. The edTPA is designed to measure how they navigate in a real classroom, with live children, and the camera rolling. "edTPA asks students to plan, to instruct and to asses in a cycle with a classroom of students and targeted learners within that classroom," adds Dr. Manning. "Which is the experience that is teaching every day, every minute. Right? It's what we ask teachers to do."

Mary Claire explains what she's required to prepare within a highly-structured portfolio. "They want you to do 5 lessons, 5 lessons that build off of each other. And then I get to choose which 20 minutes (of the lesson on video) I send in for national scoring."

Dr. Brian McAlister sat on a state board that gave Wisconsin superintendent, Tony Evers, a recommendation to adopt edTPA.  "I think now if you were to look it up on the web there are something like 34 states involved in edTPA," says McAlister. "So it's not something that one state is doing."

Electronically each student's portfolio is submitted to Pearson, which is based in New Jersey. Pearson then distributes it out to an individual who will do the scoring of the portfolio. All scorers are teacher educators who are recruited, selected and trained.   By the fall of 2016 every teacher candidate in the state will be required to pass the assessment in order to earn a teaching license. "It's terrifically challenging," says Joe Morin, a coordinator for teacher education at UWEC. "It's terrifically challenging for someone who's been in the classroom for a lot more than a month, believe me."

  But wait, weren't we always holding candidates to this caliber? "Were we doing this before edTPA? You bet," says Dr. Manning. "Absolutely we were doing this before the edTPA. The fact that now we get to demonstrate it, maybe not our choice to implement a whole other big experience, but I think in the end this will strengthen our teacher candidates abilities to talk about their practice."

And this is the question: Ultimately whose job should it be to assess teacher candidates? The university and its faculty, or a for-profit company?

"I think that there are some faculty who are concerned (and wonder) should we be evaluating these things versus somebody else? And if you understand assessment and you want that assessment system to be truly a valid and reliable source of data then you need to have somebody who doesn't know the student. Who's totally unbiased," says Dr. McAlister. 

But Dr. McAlister is quick to point out, "The important thing for the public to know is Pearson did not create this assessment. Pearson was hired because they have the capability of being able to manage and facilitate the assessment so that is their role. Their role is not to actually mess with the assessment itself." The edTPA was designed by staff at Stanford University to answer an essential question: Is a new teacher ready for the job? The team tasked with design and review was built of more than 100 educators, including university faculty and k-12 teachers.

Dr. Manning says she believes the edTPA is a response to an attack on teaching, "That they aren't as prepared as they need to be. That they aren't ready to meet the demands of the classroom."

Dr. McAlister shared similar thoughts, saying, "I do think we live in a time where there are a lot of critics of education. The result is, where is it going to stop? How much assessment is good enough to determine whether or not somebody is prepared to be a teacher? 

There is a price tag attached to this. The edTPA costs a student teaching candidate $300 and if they fail they'll be required to start all over again. 
Very few parents would wish for their child an average education with simply average teachers. We want top quality educators, but will we be willing to pay top dollar? "It's an interesting conundrum," says ECASD Superintendent Dr. Mary Ann Hardebeck. "When we do our family surveys and when we survey our students about their experiences in our school district they tell us the number one thing that they value is the kindness and the caring of the teachers and the teacher's dedication to their students. I think that speaks to the value that the community places on teaching. But there is a financial component to this."

According to the National Education Association, Wisconsin  ranked 21st in the U.S. in average teacher salary, and trailed the national average by $2,000. Everyone we spoke with claimed that there are fewer teachers available for hire. That's meant qualified candidates are in high demand, and school districts are left to out-bid one another.  "We have had teachers who have left us that have gone to other school districts because they can earn a higher salary," admits Dr. Hardebeck. 

"In my building we had a couple years ago we had a wonderful teacher who'd be that classic person that should have a bright future in our district. She's everything you wanted as a classroom teacher. She was also single, and only 3 years in. And she decided, after looking into it, that by going to Minnesota she'd get somewhere around a $6,000 to $9,000 pay increase, just that first year. Let alone compounding every year after that," adds Goings. 

The superintendent of western Wisconsin school district, who didn't want to be named, told us that sounds much too familiar.   She claims "There are higher salaries in Minnesota. In some areas significantly higher." She also says, "What we have experienced is that (Wisconsin) teachers are being heavily recruited (by Minnesota)." In her own way, Dr. Hardebeck agrees. "Districts are being much more competitive in terms of what they're paying teachers and the benefits that they provide. And there are fewer and fewer people going into teaching. It just creates that market that's very competitive." Across western Wisconsin this fall folders and notebooks weren't the only things shiny and new in classrooms.  Over 50 brand new teachers enlisted in the Eau Claire School District. "We did have to start the school year without a couple of positions," says Dr. Hardebeck. "A couple of literacy coaches and a tech-ed teacher. Those are two areas that are very difficult to fill."

According to the National Center for Teacher Quality there has been little done to recruit and retain the best and brightest Wisconsin teachers.  
That word 'performance' is a bit of a sticking point actually, Wisconsin is one of 26 states that does not support performance pay.  Many educators in Wisconsin are currently paid under a single salary schedule, meaning, salary increases are tied to a teacher's years of experience and number of college credits and degrees. According to the Consortium for Policy and Research in Education at UW-Madison... This salary schedule looks much like it did when it was introduced in the late 1920's. "Not only are we trying to keep the lights on in the first place, but we're also trying to figure out, how can we convince that bright young talent or that quality individual that's been doing this for 10 or 15 years, to stay, if we can't compensate them," explains Goings. 

Critics agree that a one-size fits all approach to teacher pay is unreasonable, and that the current scale rewards everyone a bit too equally. "I think what it fails to do is reward excellence," says Brian Westrate, Republican party Chair of the 3rd Congressional District.  "We should be able to find a way, if we put our heads together, to reward those individuals who really do bring more to the marketplace. When we do more for organizations, at least theoretically, we can earn more. And that typically hasn't been the case for educators."

Over 30 states are shifting to performance based licensing and implementing professional standards. We're demanding more of our educators, and sooner or later Wisconsinites will face a pop quiz: Is it time to pay teachers more? Westrate says, "Everyone would love to have more money to pay those public servants that are teaching our children. It's really a matter of do we have the money in the coffers to do so?"

In the end, whatever it is that makes a teacher successful can perhaps be measured by tests and portfolios, but the truest test is still the testimony of the children that pass year by year and grade by grade through our schools.

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