TeachLab with Justin Reich

Subtraction in Action: Matt Kraft

Episode Summary

In our latest episode of Subtraction in Action, our host Justin Reich is joined by Researcher and Professor Matt Kraft to discuss his latest paper “Instructional Time in U.S. Public Schools: Wide Variation, Causal Effects, and Lost Hours”. Subtraction in action is all about getting the stuff that we don't need out of schools so we can focus on the most important things, and Matt’s research offers some promising targets.

Episode Notes

In our latest episode of Subtraction in Action, our host Justin Reich is joined by Researcher and Professor Matt Kraft to discuss his latest paper “Instructional Time in U.S. Public Schools: Wide Variation, Causal Effects, and Lost Hours”. Subtraction in action is all about getting the stuff that we don't need out of schools so we can focus on the most important things, and Matt’s research offers some promising targets. 

Matthew Kraft is an Associate Professor of Education and Economics at Brown University. His research and teaching interests include the economics of education, education policy analysis, and applied quantitative methods for causal inference. His primary work focuses on efforts to improve educator and organizational effectiveness in K–12 urban public schools. His scholarship has informed efforts to improve teacher hiring, professional development, evaluation, and working conditions; changed how scholars interpret effect sizes in education research; and shaped ongoing investments in school-based tutoring and mentoring programs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Resources and Links

Read Matt Kraft’s latest paper: Instructional Time in U.S. Public Schools: Wide Variation, Causal Effects, and Lost Hours

You can learn more about Matt’s work at matthewakraft.com.

Follow Matt Kraft on Twitter

Watch our film We Have to Do Something Different

Explore our Covid 19 Reports and Resources

Get your copy of Justin Reich’s book Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can't Transform Education

Check out Jal Mehta’s Book In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School

Subscribe to Jal’s podcast Free Range Humans





Produced by Aimee Corrigan and Garrett Beazley 

Recorded and Mixed by Garrett Beazley


Follow TeachLab on Twitter and YouTube

Follow our host Justin Reich on Twitter

Episode Transcription

Justin Reich:                 From the MIT Studios of the Teaching Systems Lab, this is TeachLab, a podcast about the art and craft of teaching. I'm Justin Reich. This is an episode of our Subtraction in Action series. And if it's the first you're hearing, be sure to go back and check out the rest in subtraction, in action. We've been looking in all the ways that we can help schools become simpler so we can take less important things off the shoulders of teachers and educators, administrators, and let people focus on the most important work in school.

                                    From Today we're sharing a conversation that I had with Matt Kraft, an associate professor at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, and I believe only the second repeat visitor to TeachLab after the great Michael Pershan. One of my very favorite math educators, but I always appreciate having Matt on the show. He's a terrific researcher, a terrific policy analyst, education scholar, but also someone who was a teacher himself brings a deep understanding of schools and classrooms and the work of teachers. And he had just published some terrific research, which we have in our show notes about interruptions in classrooms, about all the time that teachers and educators lose throughout the day to bells and buzzers and announcements and phone calls and lateness and all kinds of other things that disrupt the flow of classroom teaching. 

                                    Subtraction in action is all about getting the stuff that we don't need out of schools so we can focus on the most important things. And it seemed like there was a lot of promising targets of opportunity for subtraction in math research. So I was very grateful he could come and join us. So let's go ahead and dive in.     

Justin Reich:                 Matt, thanks for taking some time to be on TeachLab. 

Matt Kraft:                   Great to be here, Justin. 

Justin Reich:                 Matt, you have been doing a bunch of great research both recently and over the last few years on interruptions, which seem like such a great thing to subtract from schools, this idea that we have a certain number of hours in the day, but there's a whole bunch of stuff that happens in schools that keeps those minutes and hours from being used for teaching and learning. What should we know about the research on interruptions in schools? 

Matt Kraft:                   I think the first thing to know is that it happens in some schools way more than I think principals and parents and the general public perceive. As a former classroom teacher, this is something that always bothered me, the feeling that I was up late last night preparing this lesson, and here I am doing my best to deliver this lesson. All of a sudden, right when I've got the class's attention and the momentum is moving in the right direction and then beep goes the intercom or the phone rings in the inside the classroom and they're calling for a student or the AP swings by and knocks on the door like, "Ah, I got to pull a kid." Those little moments where you're like, "Oh, that was five seconds. Why is that a big deal? That's just trivial." 

                                    But it ignores the huge amount of scaffolding you do to have this lesson momentum and flow. When you break that, it requires a lot of extra work to get people back to where they were. So, it's not about the time necessarily of those interruptions that you lose, but the effort and spillover effects that it can cause. 

                                    So, we've done some studies and I'm happy to talk more about that, to try to quantify that, but the long and short of it is that when you start to add all this stuff up, we're talking about losing what amounts to, at least in the district that we studied, Providence Public School District, between 10 and 20 days of potential instructional time. I think once we talk about that magnitude, it's really something we have to stop and ask, "Wow, this is actually a big deal. This is not just about a five-second intercom announcement."

Justin Reich:                 So, there are 180 days in the school year as probably all of our listeners know, and maybe 10 to 20 of them are at risk of disappearing from these interruptions. How do you come to that calculation or what are the worst offenders that we should keep our eye out for? What is really adding up to those 10 or 20 days? 

Matt Kraft:                   So, one of the funny things about saying there's 180 days in the school year is that that's the norm, but another related study I've been working on with my collaborator, Sarah Novicoff, is that actually is pretty variable across schools in districts and states. So, we assume that all kids go to the school for the same amount of time, but it turns out that that's not at all the case. 

                                    That the difference between the 90th and 10th percentile of the total number of hours kids are in US public schools is over 200 total hours over the course of an academic year. So, I'll just put that little nugget there, because I think we're in part talking about potential instructional time and how we can better use it and what you can subtract to get more of it. So, let's just make sure we all know that the playing field is not equal across schools. 

Justin Reich:                 So, one thing we could do to start with is just say we have this general sense that everybody's doing 180 days, but maybe we should be looking at our calendar schedule. I mean, actually, my hometown of Arlington just went through this a bit because the state was barking at them a bit for maybe being a little bit too close to the very, very minimum legal allowable. The way they solved that problem, they started sending the elementary schoolers to school 20 minutes earlier, which was not popular among the fourth and fifth graders. It might have been popular among the parents who were hoping to be able to get to work a little bit earlier, but mixed. Okay. 

                                    So, there's the whole variability in how long we're in school anyway. That's something that maybe we could look at if we're looking for more instructional time. How does the district next door to us get something that looks more like 190 or 200 days when we are only getting 180 days? But then within that 180 or however many days, maybe we're losing 2 or 3 or 4 or 10 or 20 days of instructional time to interruptions. What are the interruptions that are most disruptive or we should most worry about? 

Matt Kraft:                   So, the data that I'm going to talk about are from the Providence Public School District as I mentioned and I want to be transparent that I don't think that that district is representative of the prototypical district in the United States. It's a middle-sized, urban district that has faced substantial struggles in recent years and also has an amazing group of people working to try to do right by kids. So, the stories are always complex, but in that context, what I want to emphasize is that there are big challenges with just getting students inside classrooms. So, when we talk about interruptions and lost time, our focus on this lost potential learning time is that kids aren't coming to school as much as we certainly hope they would. 

                                    The rates of chronic absentee are quite high. So, you're going to lose a lot of potential instructional time there. That's one of the primary drivers in the context of Providence. But then you also have, for us, things like those drive-bys, teacher, staff, admin knocks on the door. I need a permission slip, I need to pull a kid, I need to borrow a resource. We've got intercom announcements, which I think are what we think about in our mind's eye. That's actually one of the most prominent and then calls to a classroom phone. That all adds up. 

Justin Reich:                 Yeah. We've talked about this with other school leaders like Nicole Allard from Vista who of one of her subtraction checklists is something like, "What are the communications that I'm doing to my teachers and how could I reduce them? How could I just have fewer things that I'm asking of, asking for, asking about?" Now we got to be strategic about how we're doing that, because we don't want to be subtracting listening to teachers about their perspective and what's really important to them, but if there are announcements or other things we can get rid of. 

Justin Reich:                 In the places where maybe we're doing a better job preventing some of these classroom interruptions, what are the steps that school leaders are taking to really try to protect that classroom time and to minimize these interruptions? 

Matt Kraft:                   So, one encouraging finding from Providence was that there was actually quite a lot of variability in the both amount of interruptions and the total time that they took up, even across schools within the district. So, I think that helps to show that schools and principals have agency over this. In fact, I think it's one of the things that, unlike the challenge of just broadly improving working conditions or tackling challenges with student attendance, which involve families and neighborhoods and salary for teachers or working conditions and a whole bunch of things, schools can just unilaterally say, "Hey, I'm going to turn the switch off the intercom." 

                                    In fact, one of my favorite articles is this column by Jay Matthews back in the 2000s. I think it's called The Curious Case of the Broken Intercom. It talks about this teacher who just lifted up one of the ceiling panels in the classroom and just cut the cord because they were just fed up with the number of interruptions. 

Justin Reich:                 We call that subtraction in action. I mean definitely throughout the series, we're starting to get more and more. Larry Ferlazzo in one of our last episodes was telling us, "I think the district sends all these mandates our way and the principals just jump in front of them and we never hear about them." We're like, "That's subtraction in action. That is a principal taking a new initiative in the body and blocking it." So, we need a subtraction in action. Is teachers getting out their scissors and sneaking into the admin office and just muting the intercom? 

Matt Kraft:                   That's right. We heard from teachers clear organizational practices that a school can choose to take on or not, but underlying that is what one teacher told me, a norm or commitment or a culture to hold instructional time sacred. So, is that what we are going to prioritize or are we going to prioritize the logistical stuff that's going to creep? I think that is the basis that school leaders start to make decisions such as, "Are we going to use the intercom in the phones or are we going to have an email communication or a one-time blast to teachers in the morning with everything wrapped up via a text or via a single announcement?" 

                                    I also think that teachers have a lot of agency over this, partly because sometimes it's colleagues who are knocking on the door, pulling a kid, making up a test. Sometimes it's about building structures and norms within a classroom, so that when that kid is rolling into the classroom late, this is another one of the things that added up is it wasn't just that students weren't in classes. They came to the class a few minutes late. 

                                    In Providence, in some schools, the doors are locked. So, that means you knock on the door and then the teacher or student has to get up and open it and then they start chatting and then this teacher has to reorient the kid to the lesson. That just spiraled. It just soaked up time that you aren't thinking about. So, is there just a tray where all the work of the day is that they know they go right to it? Is there an assigned student who's like the welcome the late kid student and they just help them transition so the teacher stays on track? So, I think there's some procedures and norms around school-wide communication, about transitioning into the classroom that seem small but are organizational practices that really add up. 

Justin Reich:                 Yeah, I mean to me, that's what I'm taking away from this work. The idea that it can feel like we're only losing a minute or two, but we've not directly lost a minute or two of instruction, but we've actually lost four to five minutes of momentum because I have to spend the two minutes after the one-minute interruption doing what I did in the two minutes before the interruption. Those five minutes, if they happen two or three days a week, are really starting to add up throughout the year into lost instructional time.

                                    Can you give us some sense of the magnitudes of differences that you saw in Providence? In part, I asked that not to out certain schools, but to give us a sense of what's realistic. What would be some cues? Hey, this is really the outer end of too much interruption time and this is what some of the schools that were doing a pretty good job at this started to look like. Can you give us a sense of how different the different schools were in the one district you looked at? 

Matt Kraft:                   Yeah, so we can think about it in terms of just the frequency of interruptions to start and they differ on average across school levels. So, we see this less frequently in elementary schools. I think that has to do with a lot of things. One of which is those are typically smaller schools. So, there's just less of a churn of logistics of where kids are and less likely to have an intercom. But even within elementary schools, we see schools that have 5 interruptions on average per day for a given kid and 15. So, in order of magnitude, three times larger. 

Justin Reich:                 When you said five interruptions today, I thought that was going to be the upper end.

Matt Kraft:                   No, that's the best scenario for a kid in this context on average. The middle schools and high schools are even higher. So, I think that this is sobering, but out of almost anything I've studied, it just seems like there's such possibility and agency to act on this. It's not necessarily financially costly to do so, but it takes a school-wide commitment, because yes, the school leader may set some policies, but how they're implemented and upheld is really a staff-wide question. So, it's about leadership and collective commitment. 

Justin Reich:                 Was there anything that you saw in schools? It seems to me that part of maybe what you have to do is just use transition time much better, because one thing I was thinking was, "All right, let's stop interrupting people in the middle of class. Maybe we do those interruptions at the beginning or the end." But then I was putting my teacher hat back on being like, "Oh, please, God, don't interrupt me at the end of class because I probably didn't time my lesson right and I need to get six minutes' worth of stuff done in the last three minutes. Please don't come and nuke those." Yeah, I could imagine schools using that middle time more. 

                                    I mean another thing that I have some limited sense of but I think we don't really understand very well is that schools across the country added all kinds of breaks to the schedule over the last couple of years. When we were doing various interviews and studies with teachers, with teachers interviewing their students, they kept coming back and saying, "A thing we want to keep from the pandemic is definitely the breaks." I was like, "What are these breaks you all speak of?" and try to get some folks on Twitter sharing. I heard every break you could possibly imagine. 

                                    There were mask breaks in the beginning of class. There were new breaks at the beginning of the day. There was extended recess. There was extended lunch. There was just every... I don't want to call it an interruption in schedule, because it was just non-curricular time in which maybe there'd be some one-on-one connections with teachers and students and we also just let students rest. But those seem like moments in which we could be really working to do all of this logistical work. So, that the 44 minutes that I have allocated between 8:42 and 9:27 to teach my students at ninth grade world history is really protected. 

Matt Kraft:                   I think that's right. You can call that an advisory period. You could call it the morning message block or whatever it need be, but I think the motivation to do that is so strong. Two phenomenons we observed, which were I think really pernicious, were one in the first period of day when both students were rolling in a little late and there was a scheduled intercom announcement, two or three minutes into the period, it was clear that in many classrooms, the norm was you just didn't really start until four or five minutes in. 

                                    There's going to be this announcement. There's a lull if I have launch, but a couple kids roll in late. I'm going to have to relaunch. So, that was effectively cutting five minutes off of the day every day. We saw the same at the end of the day as well. It's like, "Oh, I heard the intercom. They're obviously going to do it a couple minutes before the end of the day because that might be how long they need. That's the norm." If it was just a 30-second announcement, there were four more minutes left, kids are still putting things in their backpack. It's a signal that learning is done. 

Justin Reich:                 Just having you describe that gives me such anxiety. I mean I was not very good at time management. Actually, I still am not particularly good at time. I mean basically every learning experience I've ever generated has more planned than I actually have time for. So, I can definitely viscerally feel those last few minutes of the day where I really need to wrap up this thing and losing them. So, you're saying don't make the first period teachers suffer that. Create advisory block or create wellness time or whatever it is. 

                                    Do similar things at the end of the day so that people know that instructional time is instructional time and logistics and announcement time is logistics and announcement time. A thing that we've said a couple times is that the most important thing is to keep the most important thing the most important thing and making learning time the most important thing in a moment where we're feeling like young people have really lost some learning time seems like a powerful value. 

Matt Kraft:                   Definitely.

Justin Reich:                 Are there other things on your subtraction list? What else should school leaders, teachers be thinking about of stuff that we're doing in schools right now that we could say goodbye to in the years after the pandemic or are things that are marginal enough that we ought to be considering using that time for something else? 

Matt Kraft:                   I think subtraction can work on two dimensions. One is the, I think, more obvious one, which is we're just going to completely stop doing that thing. I think another dimension that may be particularly relevant in the context of schooling is we're just not going to ask one person to do all of those things. We differentiate what you are asked to do. So, on the macro sense, I think for good reasons, schools stepped in during the pandemic as in many communities they have for decades to play a role in public health and in economic and food security, distributing meals and as center for testing and vaccines and all of that. I think that in some ways, that's more than what we should be asking schools to do. 

                                    I think they may be physical sites where we aggregate social services, but do we really need to task the principal as coordinating that? Couldn't we have a partnership with the local public health organization or the social services in the community? So, that there's coordination but it's not all managed by these heroic principals and school leaders. So, I think there's that element of it at the macro level, and then at the micro level, as a former teacher and just talking to teachers in the course of the research that I do, there's just so much on their plate that is above and beyond core classroom instruction. 

                                    Teachers will never just be doing core content pedagogy because teaching is about relationships. But when teachers are having to fill in the voids for students' mental and physical wellbeing and their economic security by helping to organize a coat drive and a supply drive, I just think that ultimately, we're asking teachers to make trade-offs about how they spend their time. That might not be the optimal use of their time when we really want them to spend that additional half hour on really refining that lesson plan and figuring out the best way to differentiate it for students. 

Justin Reich:                 That really speaks to we don't want to subtract those things from society. We want to subtract them from schools. We want schools as maybe a site where those things happen. I don't know how many mayors, how many city counselors, how many elected officials or listeners of the TeachLab Podcast, but it seems like those are some of the folks that we need to talk to next and say, "What is it that's happening in schools that really somebody else in municipal government and county government could step up and take care of?" Because we need schools to be the place where teaching and learning is happening. 

                                    Right now, they're also the place where a substantial portion of all the social welfare programs targeted at children and their families are also happening and teachers cannot do both of those things. I've had this conversation with... There was a group of principals in Washington that I was talking to during the pandemic and I said to them, "A thing that we need to do as a society is to get you to stop doing this stuff." They said, "No, absolutely, we have to do this. This is a vital part of our work." I responded, "Not in a well-designed society, it's not." 

                                    Today, I desperately need you to keep doing this work because kids need it, but this is not where we need your brilliance and energy. I don't know if you have thoughts about how you would respond to the school principal who tells you, "No, no, no, this is what schools are supposed to be doing," or "This is what I feel like my job is right now."

Matt Kraft:                   It's tough because we have to recognize the herculean effort that many school leaders have been giving to deliver this whole care and community support, but we want to help you focus on what's most essential and what schools are just primarily best at while providing those services through folks who have been specifically trained and tasked to take on those roles. I think it's helpful to step back and remember that across the last century plus in the history of public education in our country, schools have really been the primary vehicle for delivering social support and social services in terms of our investment as a country. It just dwarfs most everything else. So, it's become this norm. 

                                    Oh, we filter things through the schools. The schools are the backstop and the safety net for the things that fall through these other poorest safety nets that we have. To say that it doesn't have to be that way and in fact that even the notion that principals should be tasked with coordinating among multiple agencies, even if other agencies are doing it seems a misuse of their time, we have all this work in education that talks about principals should be instructional leaders. That's sacrosanct and that has to be their focus. Well, if that's the case, then let's talk about what they're doing with their time that isn't that.

Justin Reich:                 Right. Who else in a municipality, who else in a county can do some of that work? Another thing that you've written about recently that would be great to hear from you about is four-day school weeks, which in some respects, maybe to some folks, it appears the radical act of subtracting one day a week from the school calendar. What does research tell us about why districts are making this choice and what do we know about its effects on student life? Is this a good example of subtraction in action or is this a cautionary tale? 

Matt Kraft:                   Four-day school weeks are a bad solution among multiple bad options for schools. So, I understand why schools make those choices. I think there's been two primary drivers. Four-day school weeks are not new. They've been around for decades. I think originally, they were primarily driven by efforts to reduce costs. You don't have to heat the building. You don't have all these other operational costs on a fifth day. So, then we have to step back and ask, "Well, is that really the trade-off we want to be making for instruction?" We choose not to fund it to this degree. So, the choices between four days or having to pay more and we choose four days, that seems like a bad choice as a society. 

                                    But more recently, school districts and places like Texas are making that transition because the teacher labor market has been really tight in some regions. So, it's seen as a way to compete in this difficult market for teachers, saying, "Hey, come over here. I've got a four-day school week for you." There's actually been a lot of recent literature examining the causal effect of this. It's variable partly because you can go to four days and keep the same amount of total in time or you can actually go to four days and lose total time depending on how much you extend the day. 

                                    But I think it wouldn't come to anyone surprise that adding additional hour from 3:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon is probably not the same quality learning from 10:00, 11:00 AM on a Friday might generate. So, the evidence is, I think, pretty compelling that on average, this is a bad bargain for kids. I think we need to step back and say, "Let's not just scold those districts that have made this choice. Let's ask what are the structural factors that have made that the best option for them. How can we change the underlying choice set?"

Justin Reich:                 Are there things that districts can think about? Because the labor market's a bit out of our control. Taxpayer funding is within our control into the extent that we can do a really good job of schools creating really wonderful learning experiences for kids and communities and have them be excited about funding us. But are there other things that can help us think through the decision to go to a four-day school week? 

Matt Kraft:                   So, this relates to a big question about, "Who will choose to teach and will they stay once they enter the profession?" That is a macro generational question for which there is no easy solution, but I do think that we particularly need to recognize that teacher labor markets are local in the sense that teachers particularly often value working close to where they grew up and where they were educated and where they were trained as teachers and student taught. There are rich oases of these sources of potential future teachers and deserts, where there's no teacher prep program or there's few students who are graduating from high school and enrolling in college, which is a minimum requirement to be a teacher, having a BA. 

                                    So, I think we need to start thinking about solutions to the challenges that schools face and staffing every position in a more localized way, rather than we're going to have in a huge district, this uniform salary schedule that is not going to recognize differences in the schooling context or the ease of commute to one school or not. I think another question is, "What does it mean to pay enough to attract not just a teacher but the teachers we want in schools and then what would it take to keep them there?" 

                                    Pay matters, but it's not alone going to keep people in schools where they feel like they're ineffective. Because when you ask teachers who are in the classroom today, most of them say that one of the primary rewards, as long as they can earn a living as part of the middle class, is feeling successful with their students. If they're in a school that doesn't support them because the intercom keeps going off every day and they feel like kids can't concentrate, then they're not going to stay. 

Justin Reich:                 I really like this. This is something that we had in our conversation with Larry Ferlazzo too, where we started with, "Okay, here's a big problem, which is the teacher labor market." Just the labor market is tight. We can't hire enough people. Well, we could add benefits, we could add salary. There's all kinds of things that we could add and we may need to do those things. But have we gone through the list of all of the things that we're doing right now that makes this an unattractive place to teach or makes it feel like our teachers can't be successful? Which of those can we take away? 

                                    I mean, I think that's a discipline that could help a lot of us in this moment as we're thinking about negotiating our work in schools. If people are tired, if we feel really busy, what are some of the things that we can get rid of? Even when it seems like the glaring obvious solution is additive, is there some subtractive dimension of it that we can find? Is there something that we can figure out, at least give ourselves the opportunity to say, "What might be the takeaway here that would be part of the solution to this problem too?" 

Matt Kraft:                   Another example of subtraction or at least the need for subtraction because our gut instinct is to add, I think, is in a space where I've also done some research around teacher-parent communication, school-family communication. I think there's just a general perception that more communication is better. I want to know what's going on, what my student is learning, how they're doing, and I broadly agree with that. So, there's been some efforts to try to facilitate that increased communication. We've had backpack notes and things stuffed into kid's backpacks and binders for a long time. That continues to be actually the most highly used technology we have for community educating. 

                                    I've done some research in New York around these new communication platforms and apps, the ClassDojo and the teacher Facebook apps and whatnot. You hear about these schools where teachers are using five or six different apps. Can you imagine coordinating? Oh, I'm a parent and I've got to log onto the Facebook thing over here for this class, but my third grader has a teacher who's using Class Blackboard. 

                                    So, it's like we've added, but we've done it in this uncoordinated way to provide some autonomy. I think it's actually probably made it more burdensome when the idea is these apps are supposed to streamline things. So, there's potential, but the lack of systematic organizational purpose. Here's when it's going to happen. Here's how we're going to make sure the contact information is high quality and here's how we're going to make it transparent so you know that your colleague across the hall actually did that too. 

Justin Reich:                 So, I don't have super robust evidence about this, but I feel like one pandemic success story very linked to that is you could get a lot of stories from people in the spring of 2020 about a kid from middle school with six different teachers coming home for the very first round of emergency pandemic learning and having six different logins, six different passwords, six different platforms to go to. There were a lot of schools over the summer of 2020 who said, "Nope, we are not doing that again. It's too much for us, it's too much for parents, it's too much for kids. We're going to choose a far fewer number of things to send home for our students." 

                                    So, I think there's some kinds of innovation along the lines that you described that we did successfully over the last couple of years. I think there was a tech infrastructure simplification that happened and maybe that's something to build on. 

Matt Kraft:                   Justin, I'll just interrupt only because the listeners won't be able to see this, but you will. I just pulled off my wall, a list of passwords and log in instructions that I had to create. 

Justin Reich:                 Two, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16. 

Matt Kraft:                   In size eight font just for one of my kids during the pandemic to get online. It's just exactly that challenge, where a little simplicity would go a long way. 

Justin Reich:                 Well, as social science researchers, we try to be careful about having any particular example over guide our thinking, but certainly, one of the things that got me onto this topic was I was having a conversation during the pandemic with artist colleague who was helping us with something. Her son walked into the Zoom meeting and asked for help with some login. It was just literally watching this feather fall down on the camel's back. This woman broke during that meeting and it was one of these intuitions. I think we've made this too hard for people and we're going to have to fix that. 

Matt Kraft:                   That's great. That's great.

Justin Reich:                 All right. So, we're going to make some progress. People are going to listen to you, Matt, and they're going to go through their school day and they're going to look at this instructional time and we're going to find some time that we're wasting and we're going to put it to better use. We're going to say, "Okay." It just feels like maybe we got a little bit too lax around the interruptions, but we got to protect our classroom time. We can do that better. What are some of your top additive things? What do you feel like if we could make some more time for people or make schools simpler, do you have things on your list that you still think schools should be adding during this period? 

Matt Kraft:                   Well, a lot of what I study relates to the teacher labor market. So, I guess, it influences how schools operate because it's who are the folks in the building doing the work. One of the things that I think we could add to how we organize the teaching career is career ladders. That's not a newer novel idea, but it's something that we rarely see. The reason I say that is because when we think about the next generation of teachers, to borrow a phrase from Susan Moore Johnson, when you ask students as the ACT has done, when they take that standardized test, would you be interested in teaching? For the folks who said, "Yes, I'd be interested considering it," and you said, "What would make you potentially more likely to follow through with that?" 

                                    The first thing they say is higher pay, not surprising. The second thing they say is more career advancement opportunities. I think we need to think about that outside of my choice is to become an administrator or not. I think people are passionate about working with kids directly, teaching, and we have this hodgepodge of one-off stipends that are pretty trivial for being a coach or being a mentor or what have you. For those 20 somethings, we are seeing some of their peers get a promotion or get a new title. The horizontal nature of the profession, it has some advantages in galvanizing collective collaboration, but I think it also limits the ways in which we perceive the profession as a society and as an opportunity for a career in this new labor market. 

                                    So, that's one thing I would advocate for would be some meaningful career ladders where we pay teachers who are experts at instruction and coaching and mentoring and do that in a way that is recognized with a formal distinction that is something you can tell someone and they would know what that means. Oh, I moved from associate to full member of my law firm and we get that. That means something. So, can we do that for teaching? I think is one area where I would like to see some innovation. 

Justin Reich:                 Any places in the world that we could read about now that are pretty good at that or places in the United States where you've seen interesting things or other researchers that we should read about that?

Matt Kraft:                   Baltimore Public Schools has done some work around this and part of the perennial challenge in education is that new initiatives and reforms are taken up and then often the superintendent turns over and then there's a new list of priorities and things aren't sustained. It's probably going to take a number of years before it filters down to the kids in college thinking, "Do I want to be a teacher?" So, you don't see the fruits growing the vines long enough before they chop down that tree and plant the new one for the next policy reform. So, it's an open question about whether that would in fact make a difference, but I think those are seeds worth planting. 

Justin Reich:                 Things to look at. Matt Kraft, who is an associate professor at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, telling us about interruptions and things we can be subtracting from the school day to give teachers more time to do the most important thing. Matt, thank you for joining us on Teach Lab. 

Matt Kraft:                   Such a pleasure. Thanks, Justin.

Justin Reich:                 I'm Justin Reich and this is Teach Lab. Thanks again to Matt Kraft for joining us and thanks to you for listening to another one of our episodes in our Subtraction in Action series. If you enjoyed this conversation, check out the other subtraction in Action episodes and be sure to subscribe to Teach Lab wherever you get your podcasts. 

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