July 21, 2019

What the Education Sector Can Learn from Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

The literature on teacher development is depressing. In study after study, researchers have found that teachers tend to make large improvements in their first few years on the job, but then their growth slows. There’s some interesting work looking at how far the growth period extends, on what measures it manifests, and whether it applies to all teachers equally, but the basic finding holds.

The question is: Why do we see this pattern, and how can we help veteran teachers continue to improve their practice?

I thought of this question recently while reading the book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. Here is them describing this same phenomenon in tennis players, doctors, and nurses:

After their internships and residencies, some doctors get a fellowship to continue on with even more specialized training, but that is the end of their official supervised training. Once new doctors have reached this stage, they go to work as full-fledged physicians with the assumption that they’ve developed all the skills they need to treat patients effectively.

If this all sounds vaguely familiar, it should, for it is very similar to the pattern I described in chapter 1 when explaining how one might learn to play tennis: take some tennis lessons, develop enough skill to play the game competently, and then set aside the intense training that characterized the original learning period. As I noted, most people assume that as you continue to play tennis and accumulate all those hours of “practice,” you will inevitably get better, but the reality is different: as we’ve seen, people generally don’t get much better just by playing the game itself, and, sometimes, the’ll actually be worse.

This similarity between doctors and recreational tennis players was shown in 2005 when a group of researchers at Harvard Medical School published an extensive review of research looking at how the quality of care that doctors provide changes over time. If years of practice make physicians better, then the quality of care they give should increase as they amass more experience. But just the opposite was true. In almost every one of the five dozen studies included in the review, doctors’ performance grew worse over time or, at best, stayed about the same. The older doctors knew less and did worse in terms of providing appropriate care than doctors with far fewer years of experience, and researchers concluded that it was likely the older doctors’ patients fared worse because of it. Only two of the sixty-two studies had found doctors to have gotten better with experience. Another study of decision-making accuracy in more than ten thousand clinicians found that additional professional experience had only a very small benefit.

Not surprisingly, the same thing is true for nurses as well. Careful studies have shown that very experienced nurses do not, on average, provide any better care than nurses who are only a few years out of nursing school.

Most forms of professional development are passive, but instead we should be thinking more about ways to boost active, deliberate practice. Here’s Ericsoon and Pool again:

Some of the most compelling research on the effectiveness of continuing professional education for physicians has been done by Dave Davis, a doctor and educational scientist at the University of Toronto. In a very influential study, Davis and a group of colleagues examined a wide-ranging group of educational “interventions,” by which they meant courses, conferences, and other meetings, lectures, and symposia, taking part in medical rounds, and pretty much anything else whose goal was to increase doctors’ knowledge and improve their performance. The most effective interventions, Davis found, were those that had some interactive component — role-play, discussion groups, case solving, hands-on-training, and the like. Such activities actually did improve both the doctors’ performance and their patients’ outcomes, although the overall improvement was small. By contrast, the least effective activities were “didactic” interventions–that is, those educational activities that essentially consisted of doctors listening to a lecture–which, sadly enough, are by far the most common types of activities in continuing medical education. Davis concluded that this sort of passive listening to lectures had no significant effect at all on either doctors’ performance or on how well their patients fared.

We see similar results on the effects of current teacher professional development programs. Additional courses or lectures seem to have no effect on student learning.

So what should we do instead? This is really the essence of Peak:

From the perspective of deliberate practice, the problem is obvious: attending lectures, minicourses, and the like offers little or no feedback and little or no chance to try something new, make mistakes, correct the mistakes, and gradually develop a new skill. It’s as if amateur tennis players tried to improve by reading articles in tennis magazines and watching the occasional YouTube video; they may believe they are learning something, but it’s not going to help their tennis game much. Furthermore, in the online interactive approaches to continuing medical education, it is very difficult to mimic the sorts of complex situations that doctors and nurses encounter in their everyday practice.

Maybe this sounds like an obvious conclusion, but if we want to help teachers improve we need to create environments that mimic the complex situations they face in their classrooms everyday, and we have to continue challenging teachers to improve after their first few years on the job. We’ve seen this in promising studies on teacher teams, coaching, and leadership roles. What all of these interventions have in common is that they carve out time for one-to-one feedback on the actual situations teachers face day-to-day in their classrooms. The feedback is timely, unique to each teacher, and part of a regular day. Too much teacher professional development today is the opposite of these things, and we shouldn’t expect better results until we are more deliberate about the learning opportunities we provide our teachers.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Posted on Jul 21, 2019 @ 4:06pm

July 19, 2019

Weekend Edu-Reads

Hotel California? Mike Antonucci tracks down the laborious process it would take for a California teacher to drop out of their union.

“Centralizing and decentralizing education governance is a popular American pastime.” Jason Weeby on the latest machinations in Chicago.

Bonnie O’Keefe in Governing on state innovations in assessment policy.

Conor Williams goes inside Washington, DC’s pre-k program.

AEI and Third Way map out the common ground on accountability in higher education.

This McKinsey report on robots  the future of work is interesting and has some important implications for equity, politics, and the education sector.

Do Georgia’s K-12 teachers deserve the same retirement choices as their peers in higher ed? I say yes.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Introducing #EduFridayFive: A Conversation on the State of Assessments with Bonnie O’Keefe

I’m pleased to introduce a new recurring feature today, an education-focused “Friday Five.” We’ve created a standard set of five questions, and we’ll ask guests to briefly respond, in their own words, about their work. The goal is to hear from interesting people across education who are leading new initiatives or research projects. You’ll see us using this format occasionally here on Eduwonk and at Bellwether’s group blog Ahead of the Heard.

For the series launch, I reached out to Bellwether Associate Partner Bonnie O’Keefe. Bonnie is the co-author, along with Bellwether Analyst Brandon Lewis, on a new paper about the future of state assessments. State assessment policy is at a critical juncture, and the national conversation has not yet caught up to some of the innovations playing out in the states. You’ll have to read the full paper to understand the whole picture, but what follows are Bonnie’s answers to the Friday Five:

Bonnie O'Keefe

How would you describe this project in 200 words or less? 

There are lots of opportunities available to states to improve and innovate their assessments under current federal law, but states don’t seem to be taking them. We look at the reasons why, and lift up some examples of states moving in interesting directions around assessment. We focus in on four areas in particular:

  1. Interim assessments for accountability
  2. Formative assessments to support instruction
  3. Shared item banks and new collaborations among states
  4. Social studies and science assessments

There are a few states starting to think outside the box on assessment, and a larger group making more subtle moves under the radar. But some states are at risk of backsliding on assessment quality because tests have become so politically toxic. We argue that investment in assessment is still important and valuable. States should work towards a well-rounded system of assessments (not just one test) that can support accountability, equity, and transparency, and also support teachers in real and useful ways.

What would most people miss about this project if they only read the headline? 

One, innovation in testing isn’t just about technology. There are some exciting examples that use technology to make tests faster, more accurate, or more engaging. But there are also examples where states are innovating away from technology and towards interactive or longer-term tasks created, administered, and graded by teachers.

Two, we’re not just talking about end of year reading and math tests. I was especially interested in exploring facets of state work on assessment that fall outside what federal law mandates. We highlight science, social studies, and formative assessment for instruction. But, you could also include things like early childhood and K-2 assessments, or assessments for English learners.

What compelled you to do this work? 

Many of the ideas we highlight in this brief get talked about at assessment conferences. But to someone involved in education policy who doesn’t specialize in assessment, especially policymakers, testing might just seem like a complicated, controversial chore. Why would you want to invest money and time in testing? I thought it was important to make the counterargument to that line of thinking, and delve into some ways that innovation and improvement are available and valuable for states right now.

What would a smart critic say about it, and how would you respond? 

If someone comes in dead set against testing of any kind, I doubt this paper will sway them, but I hope it provides some nuanced insight into what innovative tests can look like, and why it is worth improving tests, rather than eliminating them.

I could anticipate other critics saying that states shouldn’t expand their role in testing, should stick only to what is mandated, and leave everything else to local decision-makers. My response is that we’ve seen states do only the bare minimum, and what happens is basically a waste of time and money. Students and teachers still have to spend their time on tests, but they’re less useful and lower quality, and they don’t help anyone improve. It’s worthwhile to be more ambitious and innovative in order to make assessments a positive force in schools.

Other than this project, what are you most excited about right now?

In life, I’m excited for summertime adventures in the Finger Lakes (I’m based in Rochester, NY).

In education policy, I’m in the middle of a research project on local school performance frameworks that I’m very excited to share this fall. So, if anyone reading knows of work happening in their district to create or revise a school performance framework, they should send me an email!

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

July 16, 2019

Latest Education News

“Enrolling in a Boston charter school doubles the likelihood that students lose their special education or English Language Learner status, but exposes students to a high-performing general education program that includes high intensity tutoring, data driven instruction, and increased instructional time. The positive effects extend to college: charters nearly double the likelihood that English Language Learners enroll in four-year colleges and quadruple the likelihood that special education students graduate from two-year college.” That’s from this new working paper from Elizabeth Setren.

Jason Weeby has five lessons about designing effective convenings.

Read Max Marchitello on how teacher pension plans exacerbate salary differences across districts. The comparisons of teachers in Santa Clara versus Oakland, CA are particularly eye-opening.

Two interesting data briefs on early-career teachers in North Carolina public schools from Kevin Bastian and EdNC. See this one on placement rates by preparation program, subject area, and race/ ethnicity of the teacher candidates. And this one on early-career performance and retention.

Are colleges of education really cash cows? NCTQ’s Amber Moorer digs into some new data suggesting it might be time to retire that myth.

And if you liked The Lion King, you should probably read this.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

July 12, 2019

Edu-Reads and 🐟 FISH PICS! 🐟

The California charter bill has become more reasonable with Governor Newsom’s intervention. There’s a huge swath of middle ground upon which both the CTA and CCSA can plant their victory flags. Let’s hope they find it. (Sidenote: The bill amendments replaces gendered pronouns with gender-neutral ones 🙌.)

Newark Public Schools used to look a lot like Providence Public Schools today. Alex Spurrier takes us down I-95 to some lessons for Little Rhody’s big problem.

Camden has a long way to go, but a new Stanford CREDO study shows progress primarily among their charter and Renaissance Schools. You can read about the strategy that sparked their improvement here. Check out all of CREDO’s city studies here.

New Orleans achievement has stalled/dipped.

EdBuild is closing its doors but not giving up the fight for equitable education funding. Few organizations have successfully made such complex issues comprehensible.


Little Bankert, five-year-old daughter of Bellwether’s own Lina Bankert hauled in a massive lake trout from Lake Michigan near Saugatuck, Michigan! It was her first time fishing!!

Our fish don’t stack up, but here’s yours truly and my father-in-law Xavier Gaudard with our trophies pulled from Lake Charlevoix, Michigan this morning. It was not our first time fishing. Maybe Little Bankert can show us how it’s done.

– Guest post by Jason Weeby

July 10, 2019

Busing Is Really About Racism, And Other Things Historians Already Knew

Education issues almost never make it into the presidential debates, but one created a flashpoint in the last Democratic primary debate. Instead of tuition-free college or raising teacher pay, it was the unlikely topic of busing. Even if it was only a savvy bit of debate theatre by Kamala Harris designed to take Biden down a few pegs, I’m glad it was a topic that cuts to the core of racism, inequity, and segregation in our education system rather than one of the many impossible-for-the-president-to-implement ideas that have been floated.

The debate has brought the topic back into the news, so work by academics and journalists school segregation and integration strategies like busing have enjoyed renewed coverage. Education and civil rights historians are having a moment. Busing is a multifaceted topic, so the best writing out there includes all angles: inequity, segregation, politics, racism at the root of the problem, and racism that fueled resistance to busing as a solution.

For instance, on Monday, scholars Matthew Delmont and Jeanne Theoharis recentered the busing discussion on the real issue — segregated schools — and refused to let Democrats off the hook for the lack of progress since Brown v. Board:

But despite its prominence in recent debate, busing was never actually the issue. The real issue was the pervasive and damaging segregation that existed in schools throughout the country and whether all schools would actually desegregate. And with their slippery positions on desegregation, Harris and Biden expose the longtime cowardice of the Democratic Party in dealing with school segregation, particularly outside the South.

Liberals express outrage at federal judges nominated by President Trump who refuse to say whether Brown v. Board was correctly decided, yet Democrats, both historically and in the present, have been largely unwilling to take concrete steps to fulfill Brown’s legal and moral mandate of equal education, so as not to alienate their local white constituencies. As such, school desegregation has long been a third-rail issue for liberal politicians.

Below are a few more pieces that I think are worth your time. Drop your recommendations in the comments.

And lastly, both “busing” and “bussing” are acceptable spellings of the word. “Bussing” is antiquated but not incorrect. “Busing” is more popular. “Bus” is short for “omnibus.” The word “buss” is a synonym for “kiss.”

– Guest post by Jason Weeby

Posted on Jul 10, 2019 @ 11:42am

July 2, 2019

Long Weekend Edu-Reads

Mike Antonucci stays with the Janus story and recommends we take the long view.

Ashley LiBetti has three things Head Start programs can do to get better.

The Center for American Progress has a new agenda for education policy.

A new working paper finds that, at least among survey participants, “the provision of growth data causes participants to choose less white and less wealthy districts.”

Here’s an interesting new study by Jason Grissom and Brendan Bartanen on turnover among Tennessee principals. The key graph is below: For the most part, principals who leave their positions are less effective, although the very highest-performers are also slightly more likely to leave.

The stories coming out of Providence and Oakland right now are sobering. If nothing else, they are a reminder that there’s plenty more we could be doing rather than getting bogged down in the existential debate over ending poverty versus fixing schools. We can (and should!) do a better job of delivering educational services to low-income students than what these districts are providing today.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Posted on Jul 2, 2019 @ 10:26pm

July 1, 2019

American Schools Are Not Resegregating

Let’s start with a math problem. Say you have ten marbles. Eight are red and two are blue. If you blindly draw two marbles, what are the chances you’ll draw the two blue ones?

Now let’s say you have ten marbles, but this time five are red and five are blue. If you blindly draw two marbles again, what are the chances you’ll draw two blue ones this time?

The answer to the second question is ten times higher than the first (2/9 versus 1/45). By changing the composition of the problem by a little bit, the odds have changed dramatically.

This is roughly what’s happening in American schools. In 1968, eight out of ten students were white, and two out of ten were non-white. By 2012, the share of white students had fallen to about five in ten.

While students are not marbles, we’re facing the same basic math problem when we talk about school segregation. On the surface, American schools today appear to be more segregated than ever. The chance that a black or Hispanic student will attend a school with students of their same race has increased significantly, but that’s due to the composition of our society, not sorting. Once you take into account changes in student demographics, American schools are actually less segregated than in the past.

There’s a body of academic research documenting this phenomenon. But perhaps it helps to see it visually. The graph at right comes from a piece by Steven Rivkin for Education Next, documenting the decline in what’s called the “dissimilarity index.” As Rivkin explains it, the dissimilarity index measures, “the percentage of blacks who would need to change schools if blacks and whites were to attend each school in the same percentage as their percentage of public school enrollment.” Across the country, the dissimilarity index has not improved all that much at the district level, but at the school level it’s fallen from 81 percent in 1968 to 66 percent in 2012.

Most of these gains occurred in the 1970s, and the gains have been smaller since then. But remember, these gains are on top of America’s growing diversity. American society has become more diverse, and our schools have integrated even faster.

I’d like to see even more integration, for lots of reasons. There are real benefits to integration efforts, but we should be careful to diagnose our problems accurately, avoid distorting the data, and be wary of universal solutions. As our country gets more diverse over time, it’s going to look like segregation is getting worse. But we have to go deeper to understand what’s really happening.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

June 28, 2019

Weekend Edu-Reads

Jason Weeby on school boards, charter schools, and democratic control of schools. Ashley Jochim’s response is also worth checking out.

Josh Mitchell and Michelle Hackman take a look at the Kalamazoo Promise program for the Wall Street Journal. The entire piece is worth your time, but this graph really tells the story:

Ashley LiBetti interviews Kelly Riling, the manager of the AppleTree Early Learning Teacher Residency program in Washington, D.C. Unlike other residency programs, they make it work…  and offer residents a salary with benefits!

Matt Kraft, John Papay, and Olivia Chi look at teacher development through the lens of teacher performance ratings from principals. Like with value-added, teachers tend to improve over time, but the most promising early-career teachers make even faster improvements.

Conor Williams neatly summed up this week’s Democratic debates. With respect to education, “Precisely zero of the current Democratic candidates for that party’s presidential nomination believe that public education is the primary cause of American inequality.”

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Posted on Jun 28, 2019 @ 2:52pm

Friday Fish Pics — Son Catches, Dad Releases

Just because Andy is gone fishin’ doesn’t mean we pause Friday Fish Pics. This week we have Bellwether’s Jason Weeby and his 6-year-old son. The younger Weeby caught a beautiful 12″ rainbow trout on Sardine Lake in Northern California:

The fish nearly escaped Jason’s grasp, yielding this gem of a photo:

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman