Arthur Levine, University of California-Riverside

ARTHUR LEVINE: Good morning everybody. That's terrific. It's a real honor to be here today. I can't think of a group of people who are doing more important work. I also can't conceive of a more daunting audience. And it's not just because for a significant number of you it's not yet 6:00 AM. It's not just because you've become vigorous, young adults, and I've lived through raising two daughters during that phase of life. It's not just because I've heard you're a room full of revolutionaries. It's because over the past few months, I've spoken to governors, legislators, chief school officers, higher education executive officers, on precisely this topic. I told them about the performance of the nation's children and its vigorous young adults, in math and science, in how it compares to other nations. I told them about the importance of math and science to America's future, economic, civic, defense, international competitiveness. I told them about the acute shortage of science and math teachers in America. I told them about the quality of math and science instruction in our schools, particularly, our urban and rural schools. I told them about the need to improve teacher preparation and professional development. I told them about the difficulties in recruitment and retention of math and science teachers. I told them that action in this area was imperative. But you know all this. You're at the vanguard of urgent action. You don't need for me to paint the picture. You don't need a pep talk; you are the pep talk. So I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I could say that might be valuable.

Finally, finally, I decided to show you slides of my family's visit to Washington, DC in the hope that might give you some tips about what to do while you're in town. And I don't want to boast but I have a picture of Jefferson Memorial at sunrise that's going to knock your socks off. In truth, I'm going to talk to you about five realities we face and their implications for getting the quality of math and science teachers this nation needs. But first a warning: truth in advertising. While I was at Teachers College, I used to teach a course occasionally on, in my area of higher education. And the last time I taught it I got back a course evaluation and one of the comments said, "If I had 20 minutes left to live, I'd want to spend them in Arthur Levine's class, because every minute with Arthur Levine feels like an hour." By those standards we got about two days together.

First reality: math and science are hot today. In a quarter century of school improvement movement, a cornucopia of issues have in turn been at the top of the reform priority list in this country in our desperate search for a sliver bullet to school improvement. And you know them. At times we said, It's early childhood. No, no, it's middle school. No, it's high schools. It's different subject matter. It's reading. You know, it's the size, class size/school size. It's governance. It's charter schools. It's vouchers. You know, it's really the leadership: the principal. It's the teacher. It's in-service education. It's pre-service education. And you all know there are no silver bullets. But when a topic becomes a priority it's like hitting the jackpot on a slot machine. What happens is funding pours out, public and private, there's extraordinary media coverage, policy makers become instantly interested in the topic, practitioners know they have to do something in the area, scholars begin to study the problem, the business community embraces it, and commissions combining every one of those groups issue reports. And, by the way, the most useful thing I may say in the course of this conversation with regard to that, is in times of trouble in education buy timber stock. The fact is we've witnessed a cascade of efforts from each of the sectors. And in each priority area they've been short-term and they've only lasted as long as the funding. But this is our moment. This is our time. This is a time to improve math and science teaching and the recruitment and retention of the people who teach in those areas.

A few years ago, I did a major study of schools of education, and released reports on the preparation of teachers and the education of school leaders and on the state of research. And one of the things I learned is that systemic change requires, they go through four steps. My reports only went through three. The first step: If your report gets enough coverage, enough media exposure, people start voting on it. It's great. It's lousy. It's the worst thing I've ever read.

Second stage: You get invited to talk to an audience like this one, you talk to policy makers, you talk to practitioners, you talk to scholars. And the third stage is that serendipitously pieces of the report get adopted in different places: cities, states, universities, school districts. And you never know quite what happens with those. Do they ever do anything more than talk about it?

Fourth stage: I finished one of those speeches and I was standing in the lobby of a hotel, and this guy comes up to me and says, I really want to thank you for being here. But I've got to tell you we're not going to do anything you recommended. And I said, Thank you for sharing. And I said, How come? And he said, We don't think we have the power to make the changes you suggested. I said, I don't understand. You're the state school boards; you can do anything you want. And he said, We don't feel that way. He said, If you were serious, what you would have done is build a coalition. You would have brought together the important voices and powers in our state. And he mentioned groups like the school board and the chief state officer and the university president. Every state has a different combination.

But there is a lesson; if we are to truly succeed in this movement, we need to mobilize the actors involved. And we need to avoid the atomism which has typified priorities in the reform movement. We need to move together: policy makers, practitioners, scholars, business people, and professional organizations if were going to succeed. We need a very clear agenda of what it means to get good math and science teachers and how were going to go about it. It can't be a menu. It's can't be a Christmas tree. Second: Our time is short. Education is declining as national priority.

In the 2000 Election, public opinion polls showed it was first or second. In the 2004 Election, it moved to fifth. In the 2008 Election, it was barely on the list. Its given way to the economy, war, terrorism, healthcare, and energy even though each is associated with math and science. And the reasons are entirely demographic; baby-boomers wanted good schools for their children. They make up the majority of the voters in the United states. Anything we want, if we can agree -- and we don't agree very often -- we get. It means that when we put an issue on the table and say its important to us, politicians running for everything from Dog Catcher to President of the United States, embrace it. They develop platforms in the area.

Well, for baby-boomers most of our children have passed through K-12 schooling. And the reality is our concerns are shifted. they've shifted to our parents, who are growing old and more frail. And the issues we're going to get behind are healthcare, elder care, and social security not only for them but very soon for ourselves. The lesson that comes here: If we want success in this area we need to tie improvement in math and science teaching to the issues that are American priorities. We need to tie the importance quality math and science teachers to healthcare, to energy, to the economy, to defense, not simply educational improvement. Third: Our resources are declining. President Obama offered a rich agenda for action in education but that was before the economic collapse.

Today, Federal revenues are going to go for the bailout, for stimulus packages, for the war, to make up for tax declines. There isn't going to be a lot of money. And what we're going to see is the Federal Government devolve, delegate to the states, the education agenda. But unfortunately, the states don't have any money either. They're going to be burdened with social services, healthcare, unemployment, lower taxes. Education's going to be cut because it's one of the biggest items in state budgets. Universities don't have money either; there's greater financial need among our students. We can't increase tuition at the rates we once increased them. Our endowments are down. Fundraising is down. Did you expect an upbeat speech? What I think were going to see in the next few years is a lot of finger pointing. Were going to see the Federal Government pointing at the states and the states pointing at universities and school system and vice versa. I think its going to be a time in which we're going to be asked to be more accountable. We're going to see more regulation, and we're going to see fewer resources. So I think what we need to do, we need to follow the advice of Willie Sutton. When he was asked why he robbed banks, he said, That's where the money is.

For us, support's going to come, it's going to have to come from areas beyond education. We're going to have to look for those agencies and those organizations that have money. And they're going to be in government agencies such as defense, labor, health, energy, economic development, and retraining. We need to tie the importance of math and science teachers to those areas. Fourth: Our efforts have got to rely upon evidence. Too often education reform has much more to do with competing ideologies than with the needs of children. I just think about the reading wars - that has nothing to do with children. Do we choose phonics, do we choose whole language, with nothing acceptable in the middle. What about the war over English only or bilingual education, social promotion versus repeating grades, progressivism versus essentialism. Science education has always been politicized. When Darwin offered the theory of evolution, we saw university faculty fired all across America, and the reason was our colleges and universities were established by religious orders by and large, at least east of the Mississippi. And the fact of the matter is evolution did not sound like seven days of creation. And even at schools, universities, eminent universities like Yale, Social Darwinism could not be taught into the late 19th Century and early 20th Century.

The fact of the matter is we have our of political issues beyond evolution: global warming, myth or reality; drilling versus windmills, choice versus life. All of those are going to come into play if ideologies dominate. And teaching is equally divided. We don't agree about how we prepare people to teach. We don't agree about professional development. One of the sharpest divisions in this country, with regard to teaching, is teaching a craft or is it a profession? For crafts like journalism, people learn it largely on the job. For profession like medicine or law, we require a great deal of education before we put people to work. Which is teaching? We're being told both. We're being told each. We're watching programs and we're watching state action in both directions. States are increasing the rigor of requirements for students coming through university based teacher education, in order to increase the quality of our teacher force. And at the same time what they're doing is decreasing barriers, eliminating requirements, in order to increase the quantity of teachers that we have through the creation of alternative routes, through new programs that provide little educate and place teachers in classrooms to learn to do their jobs.

Which are we? Which way do we go? We disagree about where university -- Where teacher education should happen: should it happen in universities or should it happen through the alternative routes that are springing up? And there are some amazing ones. Excuse me. A few years ago, I went to visit a publisher and I was standing in his antique room looking at all the books. And he came out and he looked at me, and he said, You know, we're not in the book business anymore. And I looked at the wall, and he said, We're in the knowledge business, and I think he saw me roll my eyes. And he said, Let me give you an example that even you can understand. And he said, You know, we're in the area of teacher preparation and professional development. In point of fact, we want to put our name on professional development nationally. We want to put our brand on professional development. Why not? Professional development is the equivalent of chickens before Frank Perdue. Okay, I was able to tell the age of the audience by everybody who laughed at that. And I thought I still had the edge. He said he was in 12,000 schools offering instruction online and through satellite; that's greater penetration than any university in the United States or university system. And I said, Where are you getting your content from? At the time, I was President of Teachers College and I figured he'd have to come to me. And he said, We hire full-time content providers. And I thought about that and I really didn't know anybody who was a full-time content provider. My parents had no friends who were full-time content providers. So I asked him, What's a full-time content provider? And he told me, I realized we just had different definitions, I call those people professors. The difference was I couldn't give them stock options and he could. Actually I tried to give them stock options but they were just too smart. I turned finally, and said, Look. What are you doing about credits and degrees? He said, You know, we're still working on that. They're not working on it anymore. They now have state authorization to give credits and to award degrees.

We're seeing teacher education spring up in the private sector, we're seeing it spring up in the public sector. Last time I looked, the largest provider of professional development for teachers was PBS in Science. Beyond that, we don't know what the most effective means of teacher preparation or professional development is, in terms of student learning. We don't know what instructional strategies and pedagogies are most effective in providing math and science education with what populations. We don't know, and we don't agree, on what students need to know and be able to do in Math and Science.

If we're going to combat the ideological wars, we need to be non-combatants. We need to be conscientious objectors. Our commitment has to what works with outcome-based evidence that goes beyond anecdotes. You've heard the anecdotes: Mary came to our school. All of her parents were dead except those that were in prison and drug-addicted. And after six years at our elementary school, she won the Nobel Prize in Physics. That's how good our school is. And the satisfaction surveys that characterize the research in this area -- We need to document our findings, we need to document our recommendations in ways that are compelling and stand up. The fact is, that conservatives will criticize liberal findings and liberals will criticize conservative findings. We need for our data to stand up as well as any data can if were to succeed.

Fourth -- I can't wait to find out what this is. One moment. Lets make that fifth. Few initiatives in the past quarter century of reform have succeeded in scaling up. School reform initiative are ephemeral. After 25 years, we still haven't succeeded in turning on urban school district around. Although nearly all appear to have some good schools, some successful schools. Even where those schools are successful, we still haven't scaled up to whole districts.

I think what we need to do, in terms of adopting/implementing the findings of this group, is we need to seek leverage and we need to target for maximum impact. And I would propose that the venue in which we work be whole states. Let me tell you what we're doing at Woodrow Wilson. We chose to work at the state level and I want to tell you why.

I need to ask one question first, what time's this session need to end? Quarter after? Okay. We developed a fellow-- Woodrow Wilson's a fellowship organization. We developed a fellowship for teachers. And, you know, the reason's because the area you're working in. We wanted to dignify the profession. When I was at Teachers College, I remember a student coming to see me, he was an alum. And he was actually teaching math at the elementary level. And he said, I love what I'm doing but I don't know how much longer I can keep doing this. He just went back to his reunion, his undergraduate reunion at Brown, and he said, You know, everybody was making more money than me and they were in higher status jobs. And he said, My parents call me every weekend. And they say it's wonderful that I've had this experience but it's time I got on with my career. And I go to parties and I meet these terrific women. And were having a great conversation. And at some point they turn to me and ask what I do for a living. And I tell them I'm a teacher and they remember their glass needs to be refilled. It's a profession that needs dignity. And we thought a Rhodes scholarship, a national merit scholarship might provide some of that. And what we wanted to do was recruit very able to people to the teaching profession. Give them $30,000 dollar fellowships to teach -- To take a one-year master's program. We asked them to commit as a second ingredient to teaching in urban/rural schools for three years. We wanted to work on retention and so we created a mentoring program. We wanted teaching to be a career not a short-term experience. And we wanted to transform teacher preparation. We started nationally. And that national program was nice but there was no leverage.

If you have a small number of universities, that each turn out a small number of graduates and they go to teach in different schools, that's a good thing. Each of those teachers will touch lots and lots of lives. But it doesn't amount to scaling up. And so we focused on states. And what we said was -- our first state was Indiana -- the nice part about a state is that you can build the coalition. You bring together the governors, the legislatures, the CSO, the chief state school officer, the higher education community, the superintendents, unions, business, and even funders, to work together to find solutions together, to endorse solutions together. If you work on a state level, even if you have small numbers that can be significant, we're only turning out 80 fellows a year in Indiana. However, that will increase the number of math and science teachers certified by 20% a year. The numbers are similar in most states with the exception of places like New York, California, Florida, and Texas. We can also, using small numbers, fill significant openings and build critical masses.

For instance, we found with our ED teachers, we could fill every opening in math and science for middle schools in Indianapolis, Muncie, and four rural districts. We also found it was possible to have state wide action. If you can advertise for math and science teaches, why not do it for a whole state? If you're going to recruit, if you're going to work for media, states provide common venues in which all of those things operate and operate coherently. If you're going to change teacher preparation, why not identify a handful of the major teacher preparers in a state and provide them with the incentives to change? What states also permit is vertical strategies for change. You can go from recruitment to preparation, to placement, to retention, to professional development, to assessment and they offer plus. States provide opportunities for regional funding, which is likely to remain even in hard times.

Now as our two days draw to a close -- I'm going to give you a sixth. This is the bonus. There's a clash over where we do these things. Do we do them in traditional settings, existing school systems? Or we do it with alternative reformers. How do you best improve education? Where do we try the projects we're working on?

Prior to President Obama's announcement that he'd chosen Arne Duncan to head the Chicago Public Schools, to be his Secretary of Education, there was debate within the education community about whether the President-elect should chose a reformer, more radical reformer, or more traditional candidate for the position. The traditionalists were viewed as people who wanted to improve existing schools. The reformers were those who wanted to make more substantial changes in public education. They bring initiatives such as charter schools, pay for performance, non-university based teacher preparation, and dismissal of failing tenured teachers. Arne Duncan was one of the those rare individuals who straddled both camps, having worked for major school changes without alienating the union. Despite the split, despite sometimes acrimony between both sectors, the traditional, more radical approaches to school reform are actually more alike than different. They're both in the business of trying to sustain the existing school system. The traditionalists are practitioners, they're policy makers, they're researchers who are attempting to change public education from within. They head school systems, they're prominent university professors, they have major roles in government.

In contrast, the reformers who are mostly a generation younger than the traditionalists, work outside existing school systems. They've created laboratories for major redesign of specific practices in the nation's schools. For instance, Teach For America is attempting to change how teachers are recruited and prepared. New Leaders for a New Era are thinking to do the same thing with school administrators.

Green Dot, an organization specializing in charter schools, is working on governance. And organizations like CIP are working on curriculum and time. In recent years, we've also seen the rise of crossovers or integrators typified by Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee, who worked in the reform sector and are bringing the lessons they learned to large urban public school systems. Tony Alvarado, former Superintendent of New York Public Schools, former academic, superintendent of the San Diego schools, recommended that traditional districts develop laboratory schools to try ideas, that they develop clusters of laboratory schools that together can try ideas. The idea was politically too hot. Nobody wants their child to go to a school in which the ideas are all experimental and there's little evidence that they'll succeed, and they may just as likely fail.

The lesson for us, if we're going to reform math and science teaching and we're going to be revolutionaries, is don't choose. Use both the traditional and the laboratory sectors. And the reason is -- Unreadable. The reason is entirely unreadable but I'm sure you can think of reasons of your own. The reason is, it's the only way we can develop and implement ideas for improving science education. We need to figure out which sector is best for the nature of the program that we want to endorse. Now -- Really, I'm going to close here although there's a seventh -- No. I think in the years ahead, we have the capacity to obtain the math and science teachers America needs, to dramatically increase the quality and the quantity of math and science teachers.

The rationale rests upon the work this group is doing. It demands we go the next step, we take advantage of the times, we build coalitions of key actors, we develop an explicit agenda, a specific agenda for action, we tie that agenda to national priorities, we provide compelling evidence to support the agenda, we make use of labs and existing school systems to try our ideas, we target for maximum impact. Not since Sputnik have the times been better for improving science and math teaching. The leadership for this effort is sitting in this room. There can't be a better sponsor than NSF and its status, its experience, its staffing, and its commitment.

I wish you a very, very fruitful conference. Not simply because you deserve it for getting up at this ungodly hour, but because the future of this country depends upon it. Thank you all very, very much.