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Building the 'Next Education Workforce'

February 12, 2021

Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College convenes education stakeholders to tackle big questions

For two days in January, more than 270 educators and education experts from around the country gathered virtually at the invitation of ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College to address a big question: What should the next education workforce look like so that schools can provide better educational experiences to learners and better professional experiences to educators?

The event, Next Education Workforce: Building the Next Normal, was the outgrowth of work that Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has been pursuing for four years. The goal, says Carole Basile, dean of the college, “is to shift thought, conversation and action about education challenges from discrete programs and initiatives to systemic and structural approaches.”

Brent Maddin, executive director of Next Education Workforce at the college, readily agrees that this goal is big.

“This is not about working around the margins to improve test scores or show a slight increase in the number of teachers certified in a state. This is not about developing yet another professional development program for teachers or another leadership program for superintendents,” he said. “This is about creating the conditions in which those things can sustainably succeed in making the best possible difference in the lives of learners and educators. This is an acknowledgement of the size and scope of what we’re facing in education.” 

The two-day program Jan. 28–29 attracted a mix of participants from P–12 schools, universities, think tanks, nonprofit organizations and foundations. They came from the Learning Policy Institute, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Stanford University, the Christensen Institute and from schools across Arizona. They included nonprofit leaders and historians of education reform, leaders of organizations dedicated to diversity in education and to personalization, as well as practicing teachers, principals and school superintendents from across the country. Over the two days they moved through presentations and structured breakouts that addressed four topic questions:

  1. How might we empower teams of educators to identify, address and monitor issues of equity for all learners?

  2. How might we leverage teams of educators to design deeper, more personalized learning experiences for all students?

  3. How might we design policies at the local, state and national levels that support the development of the Next Education Workforce?

  4. How might we design teacher and leader preparation programs to build the Next Education Workforce?

Among the experts who led conversations about these topics — equity, personalized learning, policy and educator preparation — were Lynn Gangone, president and CEO of the American Association for College of Teacher Education; Peggy Brookins, president and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards; Maria Hyler, deputy director of the Learning Policy Institute’s Washington, D.C., office; and Virgel Hammonds, chief learning officer at KnowledgeWorks, a national nonprofit that is working with the college and the Center for the Future of Arizona; and others. 

Many of the experts also sat down with Maddin to record the first season of the Next Education Workforce Podcast, in which they dive deeper into the major themes addressed at the convening. 

“It was important to structure the conversations around these questions,” said Maddin. “They align with the two goals of our work. First, we need to provide all students with deeper and personalized learning by building teams of educators with distributed expertise. Second, we should empower educators by developing new opportunities for role-based specialization and advancement.” 

A workforce design challenge

For 30 years, too few people have been entering the teaching profession. Nationally, teacher preparation programs have long seen declining enrollment (although Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has seen new enrollment in teacher-prep programs grow for two straight years). Teachers retire early. The shortage of teachers drives districts and states to alternative and emergency teacher certification pathways, which in turn populate schools with teachers who are often less equipped to support all of the learning needs of their students and less likely to persist long enough in the profession to attain a level of skill and competence that would enable them to do so. 

Leadership retention is also an issue. Superintendents and principals switch jobs frequently or leave the profession altogether, thus depriving communities of the school leadership stability that correlates with leaner success. 

A video screenshot shows an infographic explaining team teaching

Mary Brown, teacher executive designer at SPARK School at Kyrene de las Manitas, shares how the school uses teams of educators to deepen and personalize learning for students. SPARK is a partner school of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College’s Next Education Workforce and one of five schools highlighted at the two-day national convening.

And, as a March 2019 paper published by the Economic Policy Institute as part of its “The Perfect Storm in the Teacher Labor Market” series, the negative consequences of a faltering education workforce are more acute in high-poverty schools.

“These are long-lamented problems,” said Maddin. “Teacher shortage, burnout, leadership attrition and the fact that these challenges hit harder in low-income communities and communities of color. We have been tackling these problems for a long time.Their very persistence suggests that to continue to frame things primarily as a labor supply problem is to profoundly misread the challenge. 

“We’re not just facing a teacher supply problem. We’re facing a workforce design problem. If, as a society, we’re not getting the education workforce or the learning outcomes we want, it’s time to redesign the profession, the workplace and how we prepare people for both.”

Leveraging ASU’s position

For the last four years, ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has been designing itself to address that challenge. 

“As a college of education, we have a lot of leverage to bring people and ideas together,” said Basile. “And as ASU, we have the freedom — and a mandate — to try to do the hard, big things.”

Basile notes that, as a college of education that operates a large teacher preparation, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College occupies an important position in the labor supply chain. “There is great demand for our graduates. But even before that, there is great demand for our students as interns and residents. So we’re fortunate to have district partners who are eager to work with us to create models in their schools of how teams of educators can work together.” 

The college is developing a library of resources to help schools develop teaming models. Resources include briefs on topics such as deeper and personalized learning, blueprints for how teams of educators can distribute expertise and tools that help superintendents identify district readiness and develop staffing strategies. 

ASU also has intellectual influence and world-class capability for conducting use-inspired research. In the 2021 U.S. News & World Report rankings of U.S. graduate colleges of education, ASU ranked second nationally in the amount of research dollars spent. 

Accordingly, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is implementing a research agenda that Basile says “aims to improve how we measure learning outcomes and professional development outcomes, as well as how we more holistically assess learning and professional environments.” 

Perhaps most importantly, ASU has the convening power to bring the right stakeholders together to generate sustainable systems change. 

“The best part of most conferences is what happens on the sidelines in hallways and at coffee breaks,” said Maddin. “We were virtual. So we didn’t have hallways. But we had one-to-one chat functions and messaging. And we tried to create virtual interactions that could spark real relationships. And it appears we did. People want to do this again. More importantly, they want to work together in real schools with real teachers and learners before we do this again. And that’s what matters. Because effecting positive systemic change in education has to be a movement.”

Avoiding groundhog day

People at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College are acutely aware that they are not the first to have taken up the banner of sweeping systemic change in education. Nor are they the first to champion team-based teaching, emphasize personalized learning or tie the learning success of children to the professional satisfaction of adult educators. 

Lisa Wyatt, senior program strategist, Next Education Workforce, played a leading role in developing the agenda for the convening. She says that the college's team has been conscious of “not wanting this work to be 'Groundhog Day.' That’s why we kicked off this national convening with one of the leading historians of education.”

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Researcher, historian and practitioner Larry Cuban (right) offered insights on the challenging history of school reform in a conversation with Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College Dean Carole Basile, moderated by MLFTC’s Sherman Dorn.

Larry Cuban, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University and former president of the American Educational Research Association, joined Dean Carole Basile for a conversation on education history and reform, moderated by Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College professor and education historian Sherman Dorn.

Says Basile, “Larry has been engaged with how to make education better for decades. No one has observed reform plans and improvement schemes come and go as closely as Larry. His superpower is challenging flavor-of-month simplifications and magical thinking. So we thought he would be the ideal person to set the table for us and stress-test some of our assumptions as we expand the national conversation based on our work.” 

The conversation was wide-ranging, touching on the fact that team teaching, personalization and a desire to elevate the education profession are not new. 

“Our impact, will come from how we bring these concepts together and how we bring people and institutional capacity together," said Basile. "Transformative innovation rarely involves the conjuring of something entirely new into the world. It is almost alway a recombinant thing.” 

Executive Director, Marketing and Advancement , Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

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ASU center hosts dialogue to reconsider American history

February 12, 2021

The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy's 2021 Social Cohesion Dialogue will question the America we think we know

When it comes to American history, ASU Foundation Professor Lois Brown believes no story is too small to tell.

On Thursday, Feb. 18, the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, for which Brown serves as director, will host authors Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Noé Álvarez for its annual Social Cohesion Dialogue, which puts acclaimed authors and their books in conversation with ASU and Arizona audiences about issues of race, class, environmental justice, civil rights, economic inequality and social justice.

And the stories Armstrong Dunbar and Álvarez have to tell are far from small. In “Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge,” Armstrong Dunbar recounts the titular character’s fight for freedom, and in “Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land,” Álvarez relays his own personal journey from working in an apple-packing plant to becoming a first-generation Latino college student — a journey that led him to join a Native American/First Nations epic marathon meant to renew cultural connections across North America.

“It's really painfully clear in both of these books that when an individual decides that they want to act on their own behalf, it has incredibly complicated ramifications,” Brown said. “And so both of these books give us a way to think about American culture and history, and I think — even more importantly — they prompt us to start asking more nuanced questions about the America we think we know, want to know more about and want others to talk with us about.”

Brown will moderate the dialogue on Feb. 18, which will be held virtually via Zoom.

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ASU Foundation Professor Lois Brown

Question: Why did you choose the books/authors you did for this year’s dialogue?

Answer: It’s always a festival of plenty when it comes to thinking about which books to feature in the Social Cohesion Dialogue, but one of the things that prompted these books to rise to the top is the power of revelatory story. We are living at a time when — in relation to issues of race, ethnicity, difference and diversity — so many people are saying, “I didn't know.” They didn’t know that systemic inequality existed or was made manifest in these ways, or they had no idea that American history included these lessons about founding fathers and their families and their relation to enslavement or to settler colonialism or to racial stratification.

(Álvarez) is a Mexican American immigrant, and his book is not only a powerful coming-of-age story, it’s also a story about borders. So it allows us in Arizona to think about the history of this state and the ways in which Mexican Americans are an integral part of our culture, our society, our history and our leadership. It's a very humble and straightforward meditation on the difficulties of belonging and the possibilities of how one comes into knowing oneself.

(Dunbar’s) book is a revelatory history about George Washington, an individual many people think they know. This is a book that takes an absolutely critical historical moment from America’s beginnings and situates it in the larger context of power hierarchy, enslavement, pursuit and oppression. And it's also a book about agency. It sheds a light on the kind of costs that are associated with striking out on one's own.

Q: It has been almost a year since the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy hosted a public lecture series in response to the killing of George Floyd. One of the resounding takeaway messages from that series was the need for individuals to educate themselves about racial issues. Do you think any progress has been made in that respect since then?

A: I do think the tide is moving, but it's important to find places of hope. Because even as things are changing and more people are coming into consciousness, we also see absolutely unsettling demonstrations of resistance coming from predominantly white corners on days like Jan. 6, and that was not an isolated event. But I would say that, coming out of the summer of 2020, which was incredibly traumatic for so many people and really highlighted multiple vulnerabilities, that there has been a sort of ripple effect of impact. It seems based on the kinds of initiatives that people and institutions like ours are taking, that more people being fueled by a desire to know more, to be present, to be vigilant and to figure out how best to bear witness to what either needs to be done or what needs to stop being done.

There is still a lot to be learned about systemic inequality and its reach and how rooted it is and what anxieties it's provoking in those who think that inclusion means their exclusion. But we have to turn towards the light, do we not? I also think that with all the violence, with all the trauma and hurt and disproportionate impacts of the pandemic, that it's becoming increasingly difficult — and I hope impossible — for people to say, “I did not know, I did not see, I did not hear.” And then once you see these things, it compels action. It compels response. And I see more people leaning in to respond in ways that are constructive and purposeful, and that should give us more hope.

Q: What do you hope people take away from the dialogue on Feb. 18?

A: Oh, many things. In no particular order, I hope they see that despite all the odds against us right now, it's still possible to gather in good company and talk about amazing books with really gifted and insightful people. I hope that people see the power of their own voices and their own stories, and that no story is too small to tell. That what we navigate as individuals and as members of organizations or communities is part of a larger set of American stories about place and power and aspiration; about overcoming incredible obstacles and about learning as many languages as needed to try and communicate as best we can about issues of justice and peace.

I hope people come away with a real sense that American history is definitely not static. That we still have so much to add, locate, identify, document and incorporate when it comes to teaching and thinking and writing and reading about American histories.

And I hope people come away with a sense that while endings can be untidy and seemingly unresolved, it's OK to live in that place of incompleteness, because it gives us all an opportunity to think, “How else might I contribute here? How else might I learn more?” I hope that people come out of it with a sense that it's not about casting aspersions; it's about expecting that there's more to every single story we encounter, and that we need to create a culture of asking purposeful, thoughtful, evocative questions of each other.

headshots of authors Erica Armstrong Dunbar (left) and Noé Alvarez

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay