Linda Darling-Hammond, president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, Charles E. Ducommun Emeritus Professor of Education at Stanford University, and a regular top-ranker in the annual RHSU Edu-Scholar Rankings, received the 2022 award Yidan Prize for Research in Education. The $3.9 million prize, arguably the most prestigious education award in the world, credited Linda’s scholarship with “revealing[ing] the various ways children learn and how best to teach and nurture them[ing] these ideas about strong educator development programs and transformed schools. Although Linda and I have had many disagreements over the years, I have great respect for her remarkable contributions. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to ask him a few questions about his work, the price, and the issues of the day.
grinding wheel: Congratulations, Linda. It is a well-deserved honor. To start, can you say a few words about how you came to focus on the kinds of issues, like professional development and teacher training, for which you are honored?
Linda: Thanks, Rick. I became interested in teacher learning because of my own experiences as a high school English teacher. I fell into teaching after college, entering an alternative internship program in Philadelphia that placed me in a full-time teaching position after only a few weeks of teaching during the summer. Having taught in an urban after-school program in college, I quickly realized how ill-prepared I was to meet the needs of all my students, including high school students who could not yet read. . The professional development I experienced was limited and unnecessary. While I was enthusiastic and hardworking, and the students liked me quite well, I could not find the knowledge base for teaching that I was desperately looking for at that time. When I met amazing teachers and began to study how they had learned to teach, and conducted research on teacher preparation at RAND and later at Teachers College in Columbia University, I discovered a deep knowledge base that few teachers could access. So I decided to work on understanding high-quality teacher preparation and how it could become mainstream.
grinding wheel: You have demonstrated a remarkable ability to straddle the academic and governmental worlds. You served as chairman of the California Board of Education, chaired the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, led Obama’s education transition team in 2008 and Biden’s transition team in 2020. What did you learn? of these roles?
Linda: As you know, there is a deep gap between research and practice and an even deeper gap between research and policy. This schism has become evident over the past few years of No Child Left Behind, a topic on which you and I wrote a joint op-ed. as law enforcement became increasingly dysfunctional. By engaging in the political process, I learned more about the constraints and considerations that decision-makers must take into account and what it takes to overcome the craze for a single silver bullet in order to truly build a thoughtful system of supports and incentives. At the Learning Policy Institute, my colleagues and I seek to understand how to bring strong evidence to the policy arena, especially in a way that is evidence-based, easy to understand, and practical for policy makers. It is a huge translation task that requires regular commitment and communication with respect from both sides.
grinding wheel: You’re a champion of professional development, but you’ve also recognized that much of it is ineffective. Why is that? And what can we do about it?
Linda: In many places, professional development has been framed as a torturous “sit and entertain” event where a stranger walks in and talks to weary teachers, who are supposed to just listen: one of the most ineffective approaches to teaching. learning. Of course, more effective approaches exist. My LPI colleagues and I reviewed the literature for high-quality studies that found models of professional development that changed teacher practice and resulted in student learning gains. We found that these models had a number of characteristics in common: they were based on the content of the curriculum being taught; engaged teachers in active learning as they tested the practices they would use; offered practice models with lessons, assignments and coaching; extended in time (usually at least 50 hours of interaction over several months) with iterative opportunities to try things out in class and keep refining. Additionally, these efforts were almost always accompanied by in-person or online coaching, sometimes using class videos as a backbone for these conversations.
grinding wheel: On a related note, what do you think of the state of teacher preparation today? Do you think this has improved over the past two decades and is there any way to really tell?
Linda: I think a strong group of teacher education programs have improved since at least the late 1980s when the Holmes Group of Deans and the National Network for Educational Renewal worked with flagship universities and other colleges engaged to design a new model – a cohesive, content-rich program connecting students with partner schools demonstrating leading practices for training and engaging candidates in a full year of graded accountability with expert mentors. This supports the improvement of school and 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 future teachers, and teacher salaries have declined since the early 1990s. As a result, the quality of teacher training has become more variable as shortages have grown, and many programs have been designed to reduce lead times in order to get teachers into classrooms quickly.
grinding wheel: As noted by the Yidan Prize Foundation, you have spent a career as a leading advocate for equity. It seems to me that one of the challenges that follows is how to ensure that a healthy concern for fairness does not turn into an unhealthy disregard for the notion of excellence. How do you feel about this problem? How do you advise practitioners and decision-makers to proceed in this direction?
Linda: I believe equity should be about excellence: equity means that all students have access to excellent teaching and rigorous, rich and relevant learning opportunities. This means helping students learn as much as they can, develop their particular passions and interests, and meet their needs along the way. Equity, however, is not about standardization, that is, doing exactly the same thing with or for all students. We now know through the science of learning and development that most of human potential is built by the relationships and experiences people have throughout their lives, not assumed at birth. Because students come to school with different experiences, starting points, and learning methods, the teaching and learning process must be personalized to a great extent. Sometimes that can mean expert use of collaboration and differentiation within the classroom. Sometimes this can mean intensive tutoring at key times to help students accelerate their learning. This can mean learning opportunities after school and during summer school. This should never mean preventing some students from accessing opportunities in favor of equal outcomes. Instead, it should always mean increasing learning opportunities so that we have more successful and contributing members of society.
grinding wheel: As you advise schools and systems in light of the pandemic, what is the most important thing you would encourage them to do?
Linda: I encourage educators and policy makers to use this moment of profound disruption to reinvent the way we do school: to move beyond the assembly line model we inherited 100 years ago, to new models that are more flexible, fair and efficient. Innovators have created many new models that enable more personalized and experiential learning; stronger relationships between teachers, students and families; time for teachers to collaborate around curriculum, instruction, and decision-making; and skills-based approaches that vary in time and methods – from high-intensity tutoring to creative uses of technology – rather than accepting disparate outcomes along a bell curve. To achieve this new future, schools of education should partner with these innovative schools to train the teachers and leaders of tomorrow. Policy makers should remove constraints and regulations designed to support the factory model. They should ensure that resources support well-prepared educators 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.