Monday, July 24, 2006

Staffing Hard Science Charters with Limited Resources

In reading a PPI report issued last month, Raising Our Game: A National Competition Strategy, I began thinking about technology and the "hard sciences." Particularly, PPI's recommendation for a federal pot of money to help birth a national network of 250 science and technology (hard science) charter schools.

It got me thinking about what a network of hard science charter schools would contribute to American, and human future well being. Sure the charter schools would be rich in budding science talent, at the very least budding with parents who believe their kids have what it takes to major in hard sciences in college, but how would these schools promulgate science and technology in general? This much seems clear: for the hard science charter schools to contribute broadly, they would require talented and knowledgeable teachers. I wonder about existing technology and sciences charter schools. Do these hard science charters currently employ serious teaching talent?

Addressing the credentials and subject knowledge of teachers at a hard sciences charter school would seem like a no brainier. But I'm not so sure that the existing hard sciences charter schools hire top talent. After all there is a national shortage of math and science teachers with degrees in their field, and charter schools receive less money to pay teachers on average than traditional public school teachers. Remember that research confirms that investments in teacher preparation pay off. A positive relationship exists between the amount of teacher course preparation in math and science and the level of student achievement in these subjects (Kilpatrick, et al., NRC/MSEB, 2001; Darling-Hammond, 2000.)

Looking at hiring practices at schools like High Tech High (recently awarded a statewide charter contract to start 10 new schools), Washington Math, Science, and Technology Public Charter School, and the Denver School of Science and Technology would be a start. I took a cursory glance at some of the bios for HTH San Diego and many of the hard science teachers list their degrees and credentials. I would like to know teacher credentials across the board at these schools and the salaries used to attract these teachers. What attracted these science professionals to the schools?

It would seem necessary for this PPI proposed network of 250 hard science charter schools to have the ability to recruit talented teachers. The salaries people command for majoring in hard science careers generally exceed those of humanities majors. Thus the dilemma: how to get enough monies to these schools to attract the talent necessary to prepare students for roles as hard science researchers and leaders? Especially, as is most common for charter schools, without local funding streams? I realize a lot more than money attracts people to teaching, but in scaling a hard science charter model up to 250 schools these questions need to be addressed. Staffing these schools will require a lot of talented people.


Anonymous Ben Daley said...

well, what I hear from many of our teachers is that they come to HTH because they will be treated like professionals and are given freedom to develop their own curriculum. we avoid top down curriculum which is so in vogue these days. teachers at HTH are paid slightly more than they would earn at our local school district.
on the qualifications front, we have a number of PhD mathematicians and scientists working for our schools. our teachers generally have degrees in the subject matter they teach. they may or may not have a traditional teaching credential, since we have our own teacher credentialing program. this enables us to hire more highly qualified teachers than if we were merely hiring people with a piece of paper from an ed school. for many people with advanced degrees, going back and paying a bribe to an online ed school is not particularly appealing. indeed, there are many folks out there with advanced science degrees interested in getting involved in teaching at the high school level. credentialing requirements are an impediment to getting these talented individuals. does that mean that everyone who has a PhD would be a good high school teacher? of course not. but many of them would be, and having our own credentialing program enables us to decide for ourselves (since we can hire the most highly qualified).

the problems with studies that purport to prove that traditionally credentialed teachers are better are numerous, but for starters, as we all (should) know, any study that is based on multiple choice test scores is of limited value.

in terms of anedotal data, i have hired over 100 teachers over the past 5 years. i would estimate that i have interviewed at least 1000. i have had a chance to observe how the teachers we have hired have worked out or not. in my estimation, in general there is a slight negative correlation between teacher credential and teacher quality. of course it varies by program. linda's program at stanford is wonderful. very few teachers are educated there. the university of san diego deserves mention locally as a very strong program. in general, we have to unteach the things that teachers are learning in ed schools.
my two cents.

ben daley
high tech high
san diego, ca

12:40 AM  

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