Linda Darling-Hammond wins International Education Research Award (Opinion)

Linda Darling-Hammond—president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, Charles E. Ducommont Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University, and routinely heads the board of leaders in the annual RHSU Edu-Scholar Rankings—has been awarded the 2022 Yedan Prize for Education Research. The $3.9 million award, arguably the most prestigious educational award in the world, returned to the Linda Scholarship “Reveal[ing] The diverse ways in which children learn and the best ways to educate and feed them[ing] Those ideas about strong teacher development programs and transforming schools.” While Linda and I have differed a lot over the years, I respect her wonderful contributions. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to ask her a few questions about her work, the award, and the issues of the day.
– Rick

Rick: Congratulations, Linda. It is a well deserved honor. For starters, can you say a few words about how you focus on the kinds of issues — such as professional development and teacher preparation — that you are honored for?

Linda: Thanks Rick. I became interested in teacher learning because of my own experience as a high school English teacher. I got into teaching after college, and got through an alternative training program in Philadelphia that got me into a full-time teaching position after a few weeks of teaching students over the summer. While I had taught in an urban afterschool program during college, I quickly realized how unprepared I was to meet the needs of all my students—including high school students who couldn’t read yet. The professional development I experienced was limited and unhelpful. While I was enthusiastic and hard working, and the students liked me well enough, I could not find the knowledge base for teaching that I was so desperately looking for at the time. As I met some outstanding teachers and began to study how they learned to teach, and did research on teacher preparation at RAND and, later, at Teachers College, Columbia University, I discovered a deep knowledge base that few teachers have access to. I then decided to work on understanding high-quality teacher preparation and see how it could go viral.

Rick: She has demonstrated an impressive ability to reach into the realms of academia and government. She has served as chair of the California Board of Education, chaired the California Commission on Teacher Certification, led Obama’s educational transition team in 2008, and Biden’s transition team in 2020. What have you learned from these roles?

Linda: As you know, there is a deep divide between research and practice and a deeper divide between research and policy. This dichotomy became apparent during the recent years of No Child Left Behind, a topic about which you and I wrote a joint editorial. Where law enforcement has become more dysfunctional. As I was involved in the policy process, I learned more about the constraints and considerations that policymakers need to take into account and what it takes to get past infatuation with one silver bullet to build a thoughtful system of support and incentives. At the Learning Policy Institute, my colleagues and I seek to understand how to bring robust evidence to the policy arena, particularly in ways that are evidence-based, easy-to-understand, and practical for policymakers. This is a huge translation job that requires regular participation and communication with respect on both sides.

Rick: You’re a champion of professional development, but you’ve also acknowledged that much of it is ineffective. why is that? And what can we do about it?

Linda: In many places, professional development is designed as a ‘sit and go’ event where some strangers come and talk to tired teachers, who are meant to simply listen: one of the most ineffective approaches to learning. Of course, more effective approaches exist. My colleagues at LPI and I screened the literature for high-quality studies that found models of professional development that transformed teacher practice and enabled student gains. We found that these models had a number of common features: they were based on the content of the curriculum being taught; engaging teachers in active learning where teachers experimented with practices they might use; offered examples of practices with lessons, assignments, and training; Extended over time (usually at least 50 hours of interaction over a number of months) with frequent opportunities to try things out in the classroom and keep improving. Additionally, these efforts have always been accompanied by in-person or online coaching, sometimes using classroom videos as the primary list of those talks.

Rick: In a related context, what do you think of the state of teacher preparation today? Do you think it has improved over the past two decades – and is there really any way to tell?

Linda: I believe a strong portfolio of teacher education programs has improved since at least the late 1980s, when Holmes’ group of deans and the National Network for Educational Renewal worked with leading universities and other committed colleges to design a new model — a coherent, content-rich program that connects students with partner schools to demonstrate the latest practices. To coach and engage candidates in a full year of graduate responsibility with expert mentors. This supports the improvement of the school and the university at the same time. However, there has been no political support for this work over the past 20 years or for the costs of training potential teachers, and teachers’ salaries have been declining since the early 1990s. As a result, the quality of teacher education has increasingly contrasted with growing shortages, and many programs are designed to cut corners to get teachers into classrooms quickly.

Rick: As noted by the Yidan Award Foundation, you have spent your career as a leading voice in the field of justice. It seems to me that one of the next challenges is how to ensure that a healthy concern for equality does not devolve into an unhealthy disdain for the concept of excellence. What do you think about this issue? How would you advise practitioners and policy makers going forward?

Linda: I believe that equity should be about excellence: equity implies that all students receive an excellent education and rigorous, rich, and relevant educational opportunities. It means helping students learn as much as possible, develop their own passions and interests, and meet their needs along the way. However, fairness is not about uniformity – doing exactly the same thing with or for all students. We now know the science of learning and development That most human potential is built through the relationships and experiences people have throughout their lives, not assumed at birth. Since students come to school with different experiences, starting points and learning methods, the teaching and learning process must be highly customized. Sometimes this can mean using experts for collaboration and differentiation within the classroom. Sometimes that can mean intensive teaching at key moments to help students accelerate their learning. This could mean learning opportunities after school and summer school. It should never mean blocking out opportunities for some students in favor of equal outcomes. Instead, it should always mean upgrading learning opportunities so that we have more accomplished and contributing members of society.

Rick: As you advise schools and systems in light of the pandemic, what is the single most important thing you would encourage them to do?

Linda: I would encourage educators and policymakers to use this moment of profound disruption to reinvent the way we teach school: to move beyond the assembly-line factory model we inherited 100 years ago to new models that are more agile, fairer, and more successful. The innovators have come up with many new designs that allow for more personalized and experiential learning; stronger relationships between teachers, students, and families; It’s time for teachers to collaborate on curriculum, teaching and decision making; and competency-based approaches that vary in time and methods—from high-intensity tutoring to creative uses of technology—rather than accepting varying outcomes along a bell curve. To reach this new future, schools of education must partner such innovative schools to train teachers and future leaders. Policy makers must remove restrictions and regulations that are designed to support the factory model. They should work to ensure that resources support well-prepared teachers who can innovate and make good decisions for children, rather than trying to micromanage schools themselves.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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