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TQB Archive

Is it easier to prepare high school teachers than elementary teachers?

05/11/2017

NCTQ's new report on teacher prep programs provides an updated perspective on how well some 700 colleges and universities are preparing high school teachers. While it is certainly no easier to teach high school than to teach 1st graders, our results certainly appear to indicate that the recipe for preparing a high school teacher is at least more straightforward.

Get this fun fact. In our ratings, only 6 percent of the high school programs got a D or an F, compared to 52 percent of the undergraduate elementary programs we rated most recently.

Hmmm. Why does there appear to be more consensus among programs for preparing their high school teachers? Or perhaps the reverse is more telling: why are there so many really weak elementary programs?

Here's what comes to mind. There's certainly much more agreement about how to prepare a high school teacher, with many fewer ideological debates over pedagogy, debates that are rampant at the elementary level (and which lead so many programs to feel justified rejecting what is scientifically based).

STANDARD FORMULA FOR PREPARING A HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER
Content Knowledge + How to teach Content Knowledge + Practice = Job Done

Some version of this equation is what most programs appear to follow. For example, we seldom found a program that rejected the premise that high school teachers should earn a major in their subject, and in fact 99 percent of programs preparing English and mathematics teachers require as much.

Further, all programs do provide a methods course, though there is a sizeable percentage (a quarter) that fail to provide a methods course specific to a subject area.

All do provide practice student teaching -- though it is the rare program that sets any expectation for its being high quality practice.

So if there aren't a lot of wacky ideas out there derailing secondary programs, why are so many programs still struggling?

Much of the struggle can't be blamed on programs but on states and schools that prioritize staffing flexibility over quality in filling such challenging teaching areas as those that fall under the umbrella of "general science" and "general social studies." Some 48 states and DC, likely at the behest of their districts, provide at least some pathways into teaching which essentially require teachers in these areas to know enough to be able to teach cell structure, botany, and astronomy or, in the case of social studies, economics, Ancient African kingdoms, and civics.

Given STEM teacher shortages, high schools' desire for the staffing flexibility is understandable, but allowing teachers to teach subjects not adequately covered in their college preparation is not a solution tolerated in other countries. Why is it possible for other nations to staff their classrooms appropriately, but not for us to do the same?

Actually, the fact that so many programs do a lot of things well, just not systematically well across all subject areas, makes some of our findings surprising. Four out of five programs (82 percent) earn an A in their approach to preparing science teachers in their content. Fewer do so for their social studies teachers, but still a majority (65 percent). On teaching, three fourths of teacher prep programs (76 percent) earn an A for requiring methods courses specific to a subject area. It's just that when we look at the intersection of content and methods, we learn that only 42 percent systematically show future teachers both what to teach and how to teach it.

Looking at program performance across the board, our big takeaway is that the preparation of high school teachers is a big leaky bucket. Programs equip future science and social studies teachers with less content, compared to the almost uniformly higher expectations the same institutions have for future English and mathematics teachers. The nature of these overly broad subjects presents a challenge, but should not serve as an obstacle.

Teaching is a highly challenging, but extremely vital, career. Teacher preparation programs can do more to ready future elementary and secondary teachers for excellence from their first day in the classroom. Our nation's students -- and those willing to devote their careers to educating them -- deserve no less.

 

NCTQ names 16 programs to “Top Tier"

05/11/2017

With today's release of NCTQ's newest teacher prep ratings, we single out 16 programs as the "Top Tier." These programs at the top of our rankings are the best places to go to become a high school teacher.


This Top Tier list shows that the expensive big name schools are not always the best places to go to become teachers.

Top Tier programs are at the 98th and 99th percentiles of over 700 programs. They have solid admission standards, provide sufficient preparation in each candidate's intended subject area, and show them how best to teach that subject. Many also do well in teaching how to manage a classroom and provide plenty of high quality practice opportunities. These are programs that understand their most important job is to deliver well prepared teachers to classrooms. They pay a lot of attention to the nuts and bolts of what it takes to become an effective teacher.

 

If knowing is half the battle, Tennessee is winning this engagement

05/11/2017

We've long been excited about the wealth of information – and its potential uses – coming from Tennessee's teacher prep report cards (see here and here). The state's Department of Education is bringing that potential to life, as they describe in this new report.

The highlights: the state is collecting a ton of data on both their prep programs and what's happening in their K-12 school districts. Even better, they're thinking strategically about how to use all those data – including incorporating their report cards (which you can find here) into the teacher prep program approval process and integrating teacher prep data and school district data so that the two systems can work in concert.

Why does all this matter? Whereas other states are concerned about teacher shortages without much information on where or why those shortages are happening, Tennessee is able to say with confidence that while there's a decline in the number of grads from their teacher prep programs, "the bulk of this decline has been in the number of veteran teachers obtaining additional degrees rather than in the number of new teachers entering the profession." Moreover, the state can identify the specific subjects in which they have a surplus (English language arts) and where they have a shortage (ESL, world languages, and science) and in which types of schools these shortages are most pressing (those in high-poverty districts) – so that they can target solutions to these very clearly defined problems.

And it gets better. The report outlines specific ways they want school districts and prep programs to learn from these data and to work together. For example, the state provides detailed information (beyond what's publicly available) on prep programs' graduates' placement, retention, and performance – including information from their classroom observations – that those programs can use to guide improvement. The state also urges school districts to project their teacher staffing needs further in advance and to share that information with prep programs so that programs can recruit the types of teachers that districts want to hire and direct those aspiring teachers to the districts that need them.

We can't help but point out one area for improvement – Tennessee's public-facing report cards don't distinguish data by program. They would be even better if they showed, for example, if hiring and retention rates are different for elementary versus secondary prep programs at an institution, or if the undergrad or graduate programs tend to produce more effective teachers.

But, we're not ones to let the perfect be the enemy of the good – and we certainly see a lot of good in what Tennessee is up to.

 

The English teacher ripple effect

05/11/2017

Even though I'm well launched into my professional career, I still keep in touch with my old high school English teacher. From my freshman year onward, she drove me to participate more in class and had a lasting impact on my life trajectory. I know she taught me much more than the difference between metaphors and similes—and now there's research out there to prove it.

Benjamin Master (RAND), Susanna Loeb (Stanford University), and James Wyckoff (University of Virginia) investigated teachers' long-term impact on student achievement across subject areas. Using achievement data on middle schoolers in New York City and Miami-Dade County, they asked two key questions:

  1. Does having either a great English or math teacher one year influence how much a student will learn in the following years?
  2. Does having a great teacher in one subject improve students' scores in another subject?
The answers: yes and yes.

Calculating teachers' value-added scores after their students had moved on to the next grade, they found that the contributions teachers made to student achievement in the subject they taught persisted not only through the following year but for the following two years (and perhaps even longer, as that was as far as they looked).

The researchers also calculated teachers' impact on their students' achievement in another subject that they did not teach. Again, even after two years, English teachers' contribution to students' math achievement persisted, with an impact ranging from about a quarter to nearly half as much as their impact on students' English scores (comparing findings for the two districts).

However, the reverse didn't hold for math teachers, and it's not hard to understand why. Students learn broad skills in English class that translate across disciplines, such as the ability to read a math problem. In our scramble to address the shortage of STEM teachers as well as our nation's lackluster achievement in math and science, we would do well to remember the power of a top-notch English teacher.

 

Filling the desks: Teachers make a difference

05/11/2017

For all our efforts to understand the science behind learning and effective instruction, it can be easy to forget the most basic prerequisite for school success: showing up.

For obvious reasons, student attendance makes a difference in how much students learn and the likelihood that they will graduate from high school. A recent study by Stanford's Jing Liu and Susanna Loeb (yes, it's all Susanna Loeb this TQB!) examines how teachers influence student attendance rates. Their work reveals that for some students, having teachers who encourage good attendance can mean the difference between dropping out or walking proudly across the graduation stage.

Looking at middle and high school attendance in a large California district, and controlling for factors such as time of day, achievement, and past attendance rates, they found clear evidence that teachers vary significantly in their ability to motivate students to come to class. Their work suggests that teachers who regularly have full classes one year are very likely to have high student attendance in subsequent years. This is not by chance: there is something about these teachers that enables them to engage their students year after year. The effects aren't massive—after all, most students recognize their need to attend class regardless of who is teaching—but they do translate into a meaningful reduction in dropout rates.

So, what can we do with this piece of information? Most teachers would bristle at any suggestion that they be evaluated, even in small part, on the basis of their students' attendance. There is, however, some clear momentum for increased accountability at the school level. Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Tennessee, among others, all plan to use chronic student absenteeism as one way to gauge school performance, and we're eager to see what lessons we'll learn along the way.

 

The challenge of learning from others' mistakes

04/13/2017

April 13, 2017

Dear State Legislator:

First let's get the obvious points out of the way. I get that your constituents love small class sizes. Certainly, no rational teacher will tell you that large classes are easier to teach than small classes. And, unlike many education fixes, the benefits of smaller class sizes do not require lengthy explanations making the eyes glaze over. Everyone immediately understands—and applauds!

For these reasons, I'm not surprised that the North Carolina legislature has gotten itself into a real pickle over class size reductions, now having to figure out what to do with a well-intentioned but unworkable new law. That law, passed in the last session, requires school districts to lower K-3 class sizes from the current limit of 24 students to as few as 19.

With the law set to go into effect next fall, districts have announced that in order to comply with the new law that they will have to concurrently lay off art, music, and PE teachers—who, in addition to being wildly important to parents and kids, are the reason classroom teachers get a much needed break during the day to refuel and plan. Catch 22. Suddenly this very popular move isn't looking so popular anymore.

It's not my intention to single out the NC legislature here. There is no shortage of states that have gone down this road and lived to regret it, most dramatically California in 1996 and Florida in 2003. Those states were dumbfounded over the unintended—but entirely foreseeable—problems of their own creation as a result of top-down mandates. It started with the lack of empty classrooms available to accommodate new teachers, but more importantly, they learned that there is not a bottomless supply of teachers, especially good ones.

In other words, it turns out that students are better off in a crowded classroom that is led by a strong teacher than in a small class taught by a weak teacher.

Here's an example in the extreme. My daughter lives on a farm in rural South Africa. She volunteers teaching English at the local public school, encountering class sizes that make a mockery of our class size debates. Classes in this remote Zulu school range from 75 to 100 students, with four children sitting in desks intended for two. Her first impression of this situation was immediate sympathy for the school's well-meaning English teacher and what an impossible job she has.

But as she has spent more time in this classroom, she is more struck by how poorly, indeed incompetently, the teacher and her principal have chosen to deal with this tough situation—such as ignoring a closet full of new computers that could help them break the classroom into more manageable groups and failing to assess the students on their proficiency so that they might be re-organized, if only to teach each other—to name but two basic strategies that could be relatively easily put in place, but which have not been. It is no wonder that most of these 13-year-olds, who must learn English if they ever want a real job, have yet to learn to string together a sentence of English.

Don't get me wrong. There's still no question that the class size here is a huge obstacle. But the bigger problem in this poor, rural school resides in the poor quality and training of the both the teacher and the principal who oversees her work. Neither is in a position to change the hand they've been dealt, but additional training and some ingenuity on the part of these adults could produce far better outcomes.

Every classroom has its challenges that must be overcome. While in the US, even the weakest teachers are likely to know to pull out the computers and find a way to group the kids, more complex and immediate instructional challenges are harder to anticipate, and certainly impossible to solve from on-high. And given my druthers—and I'd wager every parent's—I'd rather that the person in front of the room can think fast on her feet and pivot on a dime, which is what well trained, skilled teachers know how to do. 

When legislatures opine about smaller class sizes, I can't help but think that the evidence isn't getting a fair hearing, particularly the poor return on investment from a long history of states' class size reduction initiatives. Says economist Rick Hanushek, "Perhaps the most astounding part of the current debates on class size reduction is the almost complete disregard for the history of such policies."

I do know that the positive results from the Tennessee STAR class size reduction experiment routinely get trotted out in these debates, with one important fact routinely omitted. None of the STAR champions point out that it was a carefully constructed experiment involving only 11,000 students attending schools that had voluntarily signed-up to participate. The schools had the opportunity to decide it made sense for them to participate.

Buy-in, local context, and comprehensive planning all critically matter. Apparently, those are lessons that are best learned state by state, legislator by legislator, which is too bad for kids.

 

This balloon is ready to pop

04/13/2017

If you're even a casual observer of the trends in higher education, odds are you're familiar with the persistent challenge of grade inflation. The rise of college grades—in the absence of any evidence that today's college student has become harder working than the students of the past—has led to questions about the role instructors likely play. Are today's college instructors holding their students accountable and taking the time to provide accurate feedback?

The question is particularly germane for teacher candidates, who must enter classrooms ready to teach on Day 1. And yet, our 2014 report, Easy A's and What's Behind Them, revealed teacher preparation programs to be particularly egregious offenders when it comes to grade inflation. In our sample of over 500 institutions, we found that grading standards were much lower for teacher candidates than for students pursuing other majors at a majority (58 percent) of those institutions.

Given the scale of this problem in teacher prep, we were particularly interested in a new study that provides fresh insight on the roots of grade inflation for all college students. Ido Millet, a professor at Penn State Behrend, assembled a massive dataset that included the grades awarded across more than 50,000 course sections and the GPAs of students enrolled in them. His analysis relied on two measures. The first, "leniency," is the difference between the average grade for a course and the average GPA of the students enrolled in that course. The second measure, "reliability," is a measure of how closely course grades align with students' overall GPAs.

The figure below shows the 50,000+ course sections graphed according to their leniency and reliability. In the upper left corner, we see that there are a lot of tough courses (those that score low on leniency) for which the grading is fairly reliable. In comparison, there are relatively few tough courses for which the grading is unreliable (notice that the bottom left corner of the graph is fairly empty).

Source: Ido Millet (2016)

So, why might a tough course have more reliable grading? Millet ventures a guess that it may be a matter of the quality of assignments given to the students in the class. Being an "easy grader" doesn't cause a professor to be unreliable; if that were the case, the graph above wouldn't show so many courses for which the grading was both lenient and reliable (upper right corner). What's more likely is that unreliable assessment tools lead an instructor to be lenient. In other words, if course assignments do not permit the instructor to make an accurate judgment about the quality of the work, then it becomes more likely that an instructor will inflate grades rather than risk giving a good student a low grade unfairly.

While Millet didn't have access to course assignments for his study, NCTQ's own review of assignments given in teacher prep courses would suggest that his hypothesis is spot on. In Easy A's, we analyzed assignments across multiple majors (nursing, business, and psychology, in addition to teacher prep) for a subset of seven institutions. By a substantial margin, assignments given in teacher prep courses were more likely to require an instructor to base grading on a subjective judgment.

Consider the assignments that we commonly find in teacher preparation programs: Reflect on your experience learning how to read. Write a philosophy of math instruction. Conduct a field observation. These assignments all require course instructors to trust the reality their students describe. And for each, the line between a right answer and a wrong answer—between someone prepared to become a teacher and someone who is missing the mark—is obscure at best. How could an instructor possibly grade such assignments reliably? More importantly, how will graduates respond when they begin a career that is much less forgiving than the college classroom?

 

Because every day in the classroom counts

04/13/2017

While I have many memories from my first year of teaching, one of the most visceral comes from my early morning commute. I had to take several buses across the Bronx to reach my school, always aiming to arrive well before my students. In the dead of winter, after too few hours of sleep, I'd wait for one bus while watching the one I'd just exited turn around – heading back toward my apartment. Some mornings, I needed all my willpower not to chase it down and go back to bed. But instead, I always continued my journey to school, and to the piles of work and (mostly) eager 7th graders awaiting me.

A new study shows that like me, other first-year teachers are quite good at consistently showing up to school rather than staying home. Ben Ost (University of Illinois at Chicago) and Jeffrey Schiman (Georgia Southern University) look at how the number of teachers' absences (counting only sick and personal days, not professional development) change as their workload (e.g., class size, years of experience) changes.

While first-year teachers take few days off, teachers' absences edge up for the next few years of teaching (at least based on the data from North Carolina). This trend toward more absences among more experienced teachers is notable because past research has found that teacher absences hurt student outcomes. In fact, this paper estimates that the gains in student learning attributed to having a more experienced teacher would be about 10 percent higher if those veteran teachers took fewer days off. This finding reaffirms that every day a teacher spends in the classroom is a critically important one.

While improving teacher attendance is no simple task, the North Carolina study sheds light on one potentially influential factor: school culture. Researchers found that when a teacher transferred from one school to another, her rate of absence crept toward the average for that school – for better or worse. (And yes, the authors took several steps to ensure that they weren't simply capturing a "school-level shock" like a flu that hits everyone at the school.) Given that NCTQ's past work on this issue, the 2014 Roll Call study, didn't find any district policies that were silver bullets for improving teacher attendance, it seems that school-level factors may be a promising place on which to focus.

 

A Missed Opportunity for Performance Pay Research

03/16/2017

How can we evaluate the effectiveness of pay-for-performance compensation systems if those systems are implemented only half-heartedly? That continues to be the prevailing question, as we review yet another expensive study reporting on the outcomes from another highly flawed performance pay experiment.

A recent Mathematica Policy Research study examines the experience of 66 schools housed in 10 districts that received Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant money beginning in 2010. Through the grant, teachers were eligible for bonuses intended to be substantial, differentiated based on role or setting, and challenging to earn. Teachers working in the control group received a 1 percent raise each year.

So what happened? The TIF schools reported a small bump in student achievement, equaling roughly four additional weeks of learning over the three-year study period. Based on teacher surveys, researchers found little evidence of the negative outcomes that many worry could arise from a competitive pay system, such as increased dissatisfaction with the school environment or evaluation processes.

Still, this experiment continues what's now become a tradition of really poor implementation. Almost all of the teachers qualified for bonuses (70 percent), the schools shorted teachers in the terms of the size of the bonuses (probably because they were handing out too many), and the districts oversaw an apparently inadequate communications plan that left nearly half of the teachers working in the schools unaware that there were any bonuses to be earned.

The small bump in student achievement … how do we explain that? It's possible that we would have seen greater improvement with better program implementation. It's also possible that performance pay initiatives of this type have effects that mitigate the potential for any meaningful gains in student achievement. The flaws in this study run too deep for us to know the answer.

In our ongoing tally of performance pay experiments, we're putting this one in the dud column.

 

For those who want to teach: UTeach

03/16/2017

Looking for an effective math teacher? What about a skilled science instructor? Need both? UTeach programs have you covered.

That's the takeaway from a remarkably positive study of seven UTeach programs that prepare some of the most effective math and science teachers in Texas. Ben Backes and his colleagues at CALDER found that, compared to other high school teachers in the state, graduates from the original UTeach program at the University of Texas at Austin produce as much as four months of additional learning in math and nearly six months of additional learning in science. For high school algebra and biology, the difference in student outcomes for UTeach and non-UTeach teachers is larger than the difference in outcomes between new teachers and what we typically see after a teacher has ten years of experience!

Established 20 years ago by UT Austin and now in place at 45 institutions in 21 states and the District of Columbia, UTeach not only produces more effective teachers but also produces a lot of them. STEM teacher production has grown substantially at many of the institutions, in some cases even doubling output since implementation of UTeach. By 2020, UTeach programs will have produced over 8,000 math and science teachers.

What's the secret? Unlike most traditional teacher prep programs (which recruit for those who wish to teach), UTeach programs seek to interest in teaching those headed to math and science majors. As early as their first year, program participants complete two field-based courses, and if they opt to continue, all professional coursework is STEM-specific. Teacher candidates can complete the UTeach program in four years, graduating with their math or science degrees along with certification.

While the study's authors concede the difficulty of conclusively ascribing outcomes to the UTeach model—as opposed to other institution-level effects—the central finding is clear: school leaders who hire UTeach grads are making a pretty good bet.


 

Positive Reinforcement for Great Districts for Great Teachers

03/16/2017

Over the course of NCTQ's first decade, I'll admit to having struggled a bit to figure out how to influence the policies and practices of school districts. There are 14,000 school districts, and only one of us.

For a substantial amount of time, we studied specific districts' teacher quality practices, hoping to generate change, one district at a time. The approach we took was to make sure whatever we learned in our studies was made available to local community actors, helping them to become change agents on our behalf. So each time we finished one of these studies, we'd deliver our findings at community meetings with lots of local press in attendance. With a few notable exceptions, the superintendent and even the union heads would show up, anxiously biting their bottom lips as NCTQ inevitably revealed data most districts would prefer not be held up for public consumption.

Though many of these studies generated important reforms, I'm no longer convinced that this was the right way to go. More recently, I'm struck by the enormous challenges school districts face, particularly big districts teaching a lot of kids who live in poverty. Districts rarely make the news for positive reasons. (Even when there is positive news, there always seems to be at least one reporter who, deciding that the district must be playing fast and loose with the numbers, acts like a dog with a bone.)

Enough with the self-criticism. It's time to discuss our fresh approach.

Last week we announced the first eight school districts in the country earning our Great Districts for Great Teachers honors. It's our way of elevating those school districts that have established the policies, programs, and most importantly the culture of recognizing, valuing, rewarding, and supporting their best teachers.

The first-ever Great District winners are (in alphabetical order):


Two of our district finalists proved themselves standouts even among this elite group by surpassing our standards. So we created a special category for these Outstanding Great Districts for Great Teachers. They are:


In addition, NCTQ named four honorable mention districts:


No one, not us nor the districts nor the teachers in them, is saying that these districts are doing everything right by their teachers. But they deserve recognition for being more successful than most. We hope this initiative motivates other districts to covet this designation for themselves, leading them to adopt similar practices and policies supporting their own great teachers. These exemplary "Great Districts" show what is possible and how supporting great teachers can transform a district into a Great District.

So will this strategy prove effective long-term? I'm hopeful. As any teacher would tell you, praise and positive reinforcement can go a long way to promote positive behavior.

You can learn more about the Great Districts for Great Teachers initiative and our criteria at www.greatdistricts.org.

 

Looking For Those Multiple Measures

02/09/2017

Running in Place highlights the paradox of the ineffective "effective" teacher—one who fails to impact student achievement but remains eligible to receive a good performance evaluation. This prospect represents a major weakness in evaluation frameworks, and we'd love to see this particular loophole closed. But, no conversation about teacher evaluation is complete without a reminder about the importance of using multiple measures to assess teacher performance. A new study about student surveys gives us the perfect opportunity to keep up that drumbeat.

Researchers Tanner Wallace (University of Pittsburgh), Benjamin Kelcey (University of Cincinnati), and Erik Ruzek (University of Virginia) used data from the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project to see how well student perceptions of teacher quality aligned with other performance measures, including observations and value added. The survey instrument—Tripod—covers seven dimensions of teacher quality, including the student's perception that a teacher cares about students, solicits their viewpoint, teaches engaging material, clarifies ideas, places content in context, sets high expectations, and exhibits good classroom management.

They found that students' overall perception of their teachers (measured as a composite of all dimensions, except classroom management) correlated, albeit modestly, with teacher's value-added scores. The classroom management dimension, by itself, also correlated with teachers' value-added scores and the classroom management component of teacher observations. In other words, the study provides fresh evidence that student surveys provide credible, supplementary insight into teacher performance.

The results are good news for the rapidly growing number of states that rely on student surveys in teacher evaluations. In 2013, 14 states encouraged or required the use of student surveys in teacher evaluations; by 2015, that number had grown to 33. Together, surveys, student achievement measures, and observation scores can provide a more complete picture of a teacher's performance—presuming states and districts treat each component with the seriousness it deserves.

 

Defying Expectations: The Right Teacher Can Help Low-Income Students Go Above and Beyond

02/09/2017

What makes the difference in how well low-income students perform on Advanced Placement (AP) exams?

A recent study published in Urban Education investigated over a dozen characteristics of students, teachers, and schools to identify common trends among students who beat expectations on AP Biology and AP Chemistry exams. The study, which included nearly 12,000 students in high-poverty schools, focused on students who earned higher AP scores than predicted based on their Preliminary SAT Qualifying Test (PSAT) results.

Student characteristics (in particular, whether a student speaks English as a second language) had the greatest impact on AP scores. Certain school and teacher characteristics also pushed the needle—but not always in the right direction. Teacher quality, teacher professional development, and school screening practices each add pieces to the puzzle.

Teacher knowledge and experience: A quality teacher can make the difference

Unsurprisingly, teacher knowledge and experience had a substantial, significant impact on student performance. When a teacher had more years of experience teaching a subject (especially teaching that specific AP course), stronger participation in professional associations and conferences related to their subject, or experience serving as an AP reader or consultant, the difference showed up in student scores. One of the best ways that schools can help their students earn higher AP scores is ensuring those classes are taught by teachers who really know their stuff.

Professional development: An inconsistent factor

For the best AP teachers, current professional development offerings just aren't cutting it. Teachers whose students beat expectations on the AP tests reported the lowest satisfaction with their PD activities. All teachers need the opportunity to continue their professional growth, and this study provides a prime example of how great teachers can feel left out of development opportunities that may not be differentiated for top-performers.

Student screening: High scores with a high cost

Of the schools in the study sample, 55 percent limited enrollment in AP classes using a screening process, which might be based on previous achievement or teacher recommendations. This selectivity created the single greatest AP score gain over expectations of any school or teacher variables. However, we know that student screening, particularly when it involves subjective judgments, tends to leave out students of color who could benefit from and succeed in challenging academic settings. Screening might produce a higher pass rate on AP tests, but if the end goal is to create a culture of high expectations for all students, more inclusive enrollment practices may win the day.

Other factors, such as greater per-student funding and a longer school year also led to better student performance, but the effects were fairly small. Students cannot change where they come from, the income-level of their parents, or their native language, but their schools (and teachers!) can provide them with opportunities to perform well on AP exams and beyond.

 

NCTQ Paper Finds Most Teachers Still Rated Effective Despite State Reforms

02/09/2017

I saw this headline in my clips and did a double take, wondering if The Onion had begun mocking education policy: "Teachers would have to demonstrate ability to teach under bill headed to Utah Senate."

But no, it was a headline from the Utah Deseret News. Its irony wasn't lost on us but we wager most of the subscribers were left scratching their heads, not realizing that teachers don't have to demonstrate that they are effective teachers in order to keep their jobs. Even in states that have passed landmark laws within the last five years requiring that teachers' evaluations incorporate measures of student growth, virtually all teachers still continue to be rated effective.

The status quo on teacher evaluations has barely budged.

Given that Donald Trump's daily decisions tend to mop up all the press attention, it would have been easy to miss a new report from NCTQ, Running in Place: How New Teacher Evaluations Fail to Live Up to Promises. This report describes a rather remarkable yet unreported phenomenon in which 28 of the 30 states that now require teacher evaluations to incorporate significant evidence of student learning don't really do what these laws set out to accomplish. These new laws' regulations and guidelines, most of them probably written with substantive contributions from "stakeholder groups" interested in preserving the existing system, undercut the laws' intent.

In fact, in 16 states teachers who receive the lowest possible score on their ability to increase student learning, can still mathematically qualify for a rating of effective or higher. Another bunch of states chose not to weigh in but left it up to their districts to decide, with the results that there too we see little change in the status quo.

Running in Place highlights the danger of relying solely on legislative action to advance education reforms. It reveals how state education organizations need to become more centered around supporting positive change, even if it means disrupting cozy relationships with opponents of change. While we certainly should celebrate when a state legislature enacts reform-oriented laws, faithful implementation is crucial to the law's success in the real world.

Frankly, I fear the ship of teacher evaluation has not only sailed, but also sunk. Legislatures, hyper sensitive about shifts in political winds, will be more likely in 2017 to backpedal even further, given recent pushback on holding teachers accountable for student learning. After all, if teacher evaluation laws don't change the status quo, why bother expending political capital on them?

However, not all hope is lost. We know that states can take powerful action because two states have done so successfully. Indiana and Kentucky have clear policies that require teachers to meet specific goals on student learning in order to be rated effective. And New Mexico is implementing a system that sorts teachers into meaningfully different categories in spite of what the laws technically allows.

States should prevent teachers from earning an effective rating if they are ineffective at increasing student learning. Teacher evaluation must evolve from an exercise of compliance to a process that identifies an individual teacher's strengths and weaknesses in an effort to support continual development. ESSA provides states with a prime opportunity to carefully consider the role of student growth in their teacher evaluation systems.

A vital lesson from this study is how difficult it is to make real change in the education system that benefits students. Even if one level agrees to an improvement, other levels can thwart it. As exhausting as the legislative process may be, the regulatory process is just as important if not more important.

By working at all levels we can take stories about states ignoring student achievement in teacher ratings and relegate them to the realm of satire where they belong.

 

A workaround for counterproductive pension systems

01/12/2017

No school district wants to lose their most effective teachers. But pension systems, which are under the purview of state legislatures, are one roadblock to retention. These pension systems often incentivize teachers to make early retirements - and districts are powerless to change that.

Dongwoo Kim and his colleagues at the University of Missouri experiment with a novel retention tool aimed at teachers nearing retirement age.

They developed two models - one addressing STEM teachers in Missouri and the other addressing teachers found to be highly effective in another unnamed state. Each model estimates the effects of giving these teachers bonuses at particular ages, beginning with teachers in their mid-50s, around the time when they might begin to retire to maximize their pension benefits.

Not all that surprisingly, the bonuses did the trick, with larger bonuses having bigger effects. Furthermore, the effects compounded over time, meaning that experienced teachers would come to factor the expectation of bonuses into their retirement decisions and stay longer.

How expensive is this approach? They found that the net cost to get a STEM teacher to stay an additional year in Missouri schools is $32,000 (including the cost of the bonus, plus the additional cost of the experienced teacher's salary compared to an inexperienced new hire). That's not cheap, but for districts with specific shortages, the cost may be worth it.

 

Myth buster on inequitable assignment of teachers?

01/12/2017

Do low-income students have the same access to effective teachers as their more affluent peers? A new study from Eric Isenberg and his colleagues at Mathematica Policy Research and the Brookings Institution examines this question and draws a surprising conclusion.

In 26 urban districts, the researchers set out to measure the "effective teaching gap," that is, the discrepancy in students' access to effective teachers depending on their socioeconomic status (SES). Teacher effectiveness was determined entirely by value-added scores.

Applying this framework, if all students had equal access to effective teachers, the effective teaching gap would be zero. The reality wasn't that far off the mark and in contrast with the findings from a fair amount of other research. Many (though not all) of the districts turned out to be providing all students, no matter what their SES, roughly the same access to effective teachers.

To the districts' credit, these results reflected a good deal of work on their part. On average, districts in the study had implemented around five common strategies aimed at promoting the equitable distribution of teachers across schools. They include comprehensive teacher induction, highly selective alternative routes to teaching, targeted use of bonuses, performance pay, and early hiring timelines in high-need schools.

What makes this study so different from others that have pursued similar questions and gotten different results? For one, there were clear methodological differences, particularly when it comes to calculating a teacher's value-added score. Isenberg's study controls for peer effects (a measure of how the characteristics of a class as a whole might affect the performance of any one student); however, many other studies do not incorporate peer effects in value-added measures. In addition, this study focused solely on the distribution of teachers within each district, not between them. It did not attempt to answer the question as to an effective teaching gap between urban districts and the suburban districts that border them.

For a detailed discussion of the conflicting literature related to the effective teaching gap, we recommend this CALDER brief, which describes the debate around peer effects, differences in research conducted across vs. within districts, and other methodological points.

 

Ed Reformer: Does self interest make us Debbie downers?

01/12/2017

For over 50 years, Americans have worried about our students' mediocre performance on international tests. A single-minded focus on rankings--not only in the media, but also bouncing around the echo chamber of the education reform community--meant that the nation has missed a recent and significant opportunity to celebrate some success.

I worry that the ed reformers, us included, are often guilty of highlighting bad news to stress the need for reform. But our habit of only seeing the black cloud and never the silver lining is just plain demoralizing. That's why I want to highlight some good news.

Last month the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the results of its 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). While the news media expressed disappointment at our overall performance—down in math and flat in science and reading—they pretty much ignored this chart.

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It turns out that the US is showing some surprising success at significantly narrowing socioeconomic achievement gaps in science. The percentage of students in the bottom quarter of socioeconomic status but the top quarter of academic performance – went up 12.3 percentage points in science since 2006, an increase eight times the OECD average. High achievers now comprise 31.5 percent of the bottom quarter in the U.S. (above the OECD average). The OECD reported that the "United States shows the largest improvements in equity during this period."

I ran this data by Education Trust, as well as some esteemed scholars including Eric Hanushek, none of whom surfaced any obvious reason to dismiss the results.

Said U.S. Education Secretary John King Jr., "Data show that the relationship between poverty and student achievement has declined in recent years, at least in science, with students' socioeconomic status becoming a less reliable predictor of performance… Socioeconomic status accounted for 11 percent of the variation in student performance in 2015 – down 6 percentage points from 2006. And the U.S. has made more progress in closing the socioeconomic achievement gap than any other PISA country."

People, this is good news plain and simple. Even though our low SES students continue to score lower than their wealthier peers, the science score gap is below the OECD average. The average science score of our lowest-achieving students went up 18 score points.

Some reformers dismiss these findings for reasons I can't appreciate—and which I suspect reside in our penchant for the negative. It's easier to call for changes by harping on the bad news. And yet, by constantly emphasizing the negative, we play into the hands of those who would completely dismantle public education. If all the public hears is bad news about our education system, and the constant reforms never seem to result in good news about improvement, eventually they will give up on reform and public education both and agree to some form of privatization.

Those of us in the education community need to present an accurate picture of what is happening in our schools, the good as well as the bad. At NCTQ we are striving to take a more positive tone, balancing positive and negative findings as appropriate and if we can do it, anyone can. For instance, our December Landscape report on undergraduate teacher prep programs educating elementary teachers emphasized the progress since our last Teacher Prep Review – especially in reading. And later this year we will announce the winners of our Great Districts for Great Teachers competition, recognizing the districts that most successfully support great teaching.

 

The best teacher quality research of 2016!

12/20/2016

Teacher quality researchers made plenty of provocative headlines in 2016. They identified trends to monitor, new tips for the trade, and a few wins worth celebrating. Here are the papers we think are the 2016 standouts.

1. Great teachers beget more great teachers
Papay, J., Taylor, E., Tyler, J., & Laski, M. (2016). Learning job skills from colleagues at work: Evidence from a field experiment using teacher performance data.

In one of our favorite experiments of the year from researchers at Brown University and Harvard Graduate School of Education, researchers helped schools identify a teacher who was struggling in a particular area and matched that teacher with someone who excelled in that particular area. Then, they left them to their own devices. No training. No oversight. The paired teachers found a way to work with one another to address deficiencies and grow professionally. In the end, gains for the low-performing teacher were large and persistent from year to year.

2 and 3. And the theme continues: When it comes to professional development, small may be better
Jackson, K. & Makarin, A. (2016). Simplifying teaching: A field experiment with online "off-the-shelf" lessons.

Okonofau, J.A., Paunesku, D., & Walton, G.M. (2016). Brief intervention to encourage empathetic discipline cuts suspension rates in half among adolescents. 

In a similar vein to the simple paired teaching strategy are two other papers, each helping us to better understand how professional development could be improved. They each involved inexpensive, light touch interventions that led to great gains. In the first, from the prolific Kirabo Jackson with his Northwestern colleague Alexey Makarin, teacher performance dramatically improved after they were given access to a library of high-quality, low-cost lesson plans in mathematics, as well as a few emails to remind them to use them. Teachers who also received access but no reminder emails did not use the plans and their performance did not improve. In the second paper, from Stanford researchers, suspension rates plummeted in classrooms taught by teachers who had participated in only a 45-minute online session, in which teachers were prompted to thinking about how to build more positive student-teacher relationships.

Both studies serve as a reminder that when big change is needed, every small step counts.

4. Districts must find better ways to address teachers' unintended racial bias
Grisson, J.A., & Redding, C. (2016). Discretion and disproportionality: Explaining the underrepresentation of high-achieving students of color in gifted programs.

2016 began with a sobering finding: even when black students have the same high test scores as white students, they are much less likely to be enrolled in a gifted education program. The main culprit is the identification process, relying heavily on teacher recommendations. As we explore in this paper, jointly authored with Brookings researcher Michael Hansen, districts will not be able to hire their way out of this problem, recruiting more teachers of color. The solutions must also include better training of faculty and safeguards to help teachers recognize and overcome their biases.

5. Groundbreaking policy and smart talent management continue to make the District of Columbia a district to emulate
Adnot, M., Dee, T., Katz, V., & Wyckoff, J. (2016). Teacher turnover, teacher quality, and student achievement in DCPS.

Over the last decade, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) has charted new territory in teacher recruitment, retention, and management--and they have faced plenty of pushback and skepticism along the way. But this year the Academy has weighed in with a paper from University of Virginia researchers, surfacing proof that one of their biggest bets is paying off. By letting low-performers go, doubling down on retention efforts, and getting smart about recruitment, DCPS has increased the quality of their teacher workforce substantially. The result is real growth in student learning, surpassing what's been measured in any other urban district.

6. On the need to get more intentional about student teaching
Goldhaber, D., Krieg, J.M., & Theobald, R. (2016). Does the match matter? Exploring whether student teaching experiences affect teacher effectiveness and attrition.

Our top list wouldn't be complete without a paper from Dan Goldhaber and company. This year's top Goldhaber paper looks at student teaching, a much unstudied topic that the researcher and NCTQ both agree deserves a lot more attention. This Washington state study finds that teachers are more effective if they have completed their student teaching in a school that was demographically similar to the school where they would ultimately work. Not only that, but teachers are also more likely to remain in the profession if they student taught in a school that had low teacher turnover. Two important insights for teacher prep programs to ponder.

 

NCTQ’s Teacher Prep Review Paints a Landscape of Undergraduate Elementary Teacher Preparation

12/08/2016

Today, NCTQ is excited to share the latest results in our ongoing analysis of teacher prep programs, this time focusing on what we've learned from 875 undergraduate elementary programs.This is our first set of grades since 2014, and our research discovered that programs have made some gains. We're far from out of the woods, but at least we can see a bit of light through the trees.

The top undergraduate elementary programs in 2016 (all scoring in the 99th percentile) are:
Purdue University (IN)
Louisiana Tech University (LA)
Texas A&M University (TX)
Taylor University (IN)
University of Alaska Fairbanks (AK)
CUNY - Hunter College (NY)
University of Houston (TX)
Arizona State University (AZ)
University of Arkansas (AR)
University of Mississippi (MS)
University of Nebraska - Lincoln (NE)

Unlike previous Reviews which grouped together all different types of teacher prep programs at once--publishing data on over 2,400 programs!--this report is smaller in scope, looking only at undergraduate programs preparing elementary school teachers. (We'll cover the other kinds of programs in future reports, each spread out by about six months, with the next one on undergraduate secondary due out in Spring 2017.) For more information on changes, see our Profile, one in a series of short blogs about different aspects of teacher prep and the TPR.

We are pleased to report some genuine overall progress by programs on the evidence-based criteria we examine. The big news is that more programs are adhering to evidence when teaching elementary teachers how to teach reading. In 2016, 39 percent of programs teach evidence-based approaches to early reading, up from 29 percent in 2014.

While most programs are still not selective enough (with only 26 percent limiting selection to the top half of college-goers), there was some progress. More programs that are housed in institutions lacking strong admissions requirements have stepped up, setting their own relatively high admissions standards (at least a 3.0 GPA for admission)--up from 44 in 2014 to 71 today.

Importantly, half of these selective programs are also relatively diverse when compared to the institution as a whole or to the state's teacher workforce. These 113 programs demonstrate that teacher prep programs can be both diverse and selective.

Unfortunately, in light of the recent PISA results, the news on mathematics preparation is gloomy. Just 13 percent of programs cover the essential math that other nations expect their elementary teachers to have mastered.

The findings are even worse on content preparation--which is so important for states that have adopted the Common Core or similar standards--with just 5 percent of programs requiring aspiring teachers to be exposed to the literature, history, geography, and science found in the elementary curriculum.

For more information see our Landscape report and our Teacher Prep Review website.

This report not only will help principals and human resource officers looking for where to find teachers with excellent training, high school guidance counselors will also find it helpful in advising students interested in becoming teachers to the best programs. It will help guide teacher prep programs in their own efforts to do better, and we hope it will inspire university officials to upgrade the quality of their teacher prep programs and even lead states to reconsider the oversight they provide.

We urge our readers to share this report with university officials and teacher prep leaders, encouraging them to use this as a blueprint for change. Districts also can use their leverage by recruiting first at top rated programs, giving their graduates first pick of jobs, and insisting that the programs make reforms if they want to continue to send their student teachers to the district. State officials can recommend that programs voluntarily adopt more research-proven methods and content or risk more mandates from above.

Thank you for joining us in our efforts to raise the quality of teacher prep programs so that all children can be taught by more effective teachers.

 

Feel the Churn

11/14/2016

If there's one thing that research has shown us time and again, it's that being a brand new teacher is hard—and being one of their first students is not all that ideal either. But what happens when an experienced teacher switches to a new grade level or subject? Does she start all over again? This shift, called "churn," might not sound like a big deal, but as with any change in professional responsibilities, it does come with a learning curve and some predictable consequences.

In a new study looking at data from New York City over a 35-year period, Allison Attebury (UC Boulder), Susanna Loeb (Stanford), and Jim Wyckoff (UVA) find that a student taught by a churned teacher faces a moderate disadvantage. But because 25 percent of the city's teachers churn to a new grade, subject, or both within their school every year, that moderate difference can really add up to a significant learning loss over several years.

Little Johnny encounters 4-5 churned teachers in grades 3-8, but just one brand new teacher.

As we explored in last month's TQB, it seems plausible that there could be an upside to shifting teachers to new grades within a school. Maybe Mrs. Jones does better with older students than younger, and so a switch in this instance could help her find a better teaching fit. But unfortunately, this study did not support that hypothesis as a guiding principle. Instead there's no clear evidence that churned teachers end up performing much better in new positions.

Nevertheless, if we're not speaking about within-school churn but transferring schools, it may be another story. Susanna Loeb, one of the study's co-authors, recently published another study with Min Sun (University of Washington) and Jason Grissom (Vanderbilt) that does identify some benefit to moving teachers around. Experienced and relatively effective math teachers who transfer from one school to another create a "spillover" effect—meaning math scores go up for the students taught by the other teachers in that grade level. This finding suggests that there are some ways in which administrators can rethink teaching assignments to improve student outcomes—as long as these shifts are made sparingly and strategically.

 

Obeying the Laws of Supply and Demand Averts Teacher Shortages

11/14/2016

Every consumer knows how the law of supply and demand affects prices. When demand is higher than supply, the price goes up. As suppliers increase production to match the demand, the price goes down.

I've frequently lamented how school districts try to exempt themselves from this law. When districts are reluctant to raise the salary to teachers in fields with more demand than supply, such as ELL, special education, and secondary math and science, it is no surprise when they fail to find qualified candidates with these much-needed skills.

Teacher unions and other opponents of salary differentiation have to exaggerate the breadth of this teacher shortage into claims of a general teacher shortage so they can then justify demanding general policy changes. Of course, raising the salary for all teachers, even those in fields with plenty of applicants, is an expensive way of solving a limited problem.

Still, even when districts ignore supply and demand, others don't. College students, for example. News about teacher hiring and firing does influence undergraduates when they're trying to decide on a major. A few years ago, during the Great Recession, schools dismissed 220,000 teachers--most of them relatively new hires. People with jobs held onto them tightly, reducing the replacement rate. It's no surprise that college students decided against a teaching career, resulting in a drop in enrollment in teacher education of 36 percent between 2009-10 and 2013-14.

Today's college students are hearing a very different story of teacher shortages and plentiful hiring. There's now some new evidence that this is affecting their choices exactly the way the law of supply and demand would predict.

For instance, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing found that state enrollment in teacher education increased nearly 10 percent between 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. In Indiana, the number of newly licensed teachers increased 18 percent between 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. It turns out that publicity around teacher shortages actually makes them less likely to occur.

The bad news is that we still won't do what it takes to address those persistent shortages of teachers who can fill certain subject areas or work in a rural or high urban school. That's because both higher ed institutions and school districts continue to break the law of supply and demand and should be cause for targeted recruitment strategies, not general alarm.

For instance, higher education programs continue to prepare about twice as many new elementary teachers as are needed to fill openings. They should steer some of these candidates to fields like special education where supply is lower than demand.

There's no need to lower standards at teacher preparation programs to bring in more teachers. Leave it up to the law of supply and demand to rectify that problem. Instead, states, higher education, and districts should solve the actual, more limited problem of shortages in specific fields by directing candidates away from over-enrolled elementary programs and increasing compensation in specialized areas.

As civics teachers tell their students, everyone is supposed to follow the law. 

 

BYOE: Build Your Own Evaluation

10/27/2016

Passing a good law and implementing it with fidelity are two very different tasks. Earlier this summer, Indiana University researchers took a thorough look at that state's ground game on teacher evaluations—and identified quite a few missed opportunities.

Like many states, Indiana passed a law that ushered in evaluation reform (the implementation timeline is here), being one of the first states out of the gate. Most notably, the law required districts to use student achievement to evaluate teachers starting in 2014. Ultimately, each district was permitted to develop its own evaluation system—provided it met certain criteria established by the state.

That provision resulted in 271 evaluation plans which are all over the map in terms of quality. (There are roughly 295 districts in the state, but not all of them submitted evaluation plans that were reviewable by the researchers.) The majority fail to include key components that the researchers assert would be elements of any high-quality evaluation—and indeed it's hard to argue with their logic. For example, only 15 percent of districts link a teacher's evaluation with their professional development, and less than 25 percent of districts require evaluators to hold pre- and post-observation conferences with teachers, giving them the feedback they need and deserve.

In addition, many districts struggled to articulate policies that would have built teacher trust in the evaluation process. Fewer than half of the districts require evaluator training and certification, and fewer than a third of the districts convene an evaluation oversight committee. Of those districts that have an oversight committee, few districts have put a process in place for the leadership team to meet regularly and resolve ongoing issues.

Change is hard. If we want to make evaluation reform stick, districts need to not only lay the foundations of a fair and reliable system, but also include practices and policies that make evaluations meaningful for, and trusted by, teachers.

 

How not to respond to criticism

10/27/2016

It's not surprising that teacher educators feel defensive these days. They frequently face accusations for their allegedly inferior quality programs. Non-traditional training programs assert they can produce better teachers in a few months than teacher preparation programs can in two years. Looking at the existing research will not provide evidence to the contrary. Further, surveys of teachers routinely reveal complaints of inadequate preparation. States have made a lot of progress over the last five years ramping up accountability measures, with 44 states making significant policy changes designed to make it harder to get into a teacher preparation program or get out of one. (We're not sure if these new regs will deliver however.)

Our own Teacher Prep Review certainly hasn't helped improve teacher prep's reputation. Harsh, it certainly is. A plot to destroy traditional teacher prep, it is not.

Teacher preparation's latest "critic" is the federal government with its recently released Teacher Preparation Regulations.

Though I'm not sure anyone will believe me, I do sympathize. Nobody wants to be told they're not doing a satisfactory job or that their efforts are worthless. This is especially demoralizing for teacher educators who didn't join the profession for its money or prestige, but to build a better future by helping the teachers who educate our nation's children. Also, there are some high-quality programs and professors who justifiably resent blanket criticism of their entire field.

Still, there's a right way and a wrong way to respond to criticism. For example, when The New York Times published an editorial backing the new federal regulations as a way of helping teachers and emulating first-in-the-world nations like Finland,letters to the editor attacked the paper for assuming that teacher education was "mediocre and underperforming," while criticizing the research methods in NCTQ's Teacher Prep Review.

Responses like this simply further establish the belief among many in the general public that teacher education needs to be replaced since the people who run it won't even acknowledge the problems, let alone take action to fix them.

Claiming that NCTQ's study isn't valid, for example, because most programs chose not to cooperate (as one letter writer asserted) ignores the extent of our massive data collection efforts—including originally being forced to go to court in nine states to win the right to look at course syllabi, paying out $250,000 in open records fees, and dedicating teams to reach out to professors and students for materials absent the cooperation of programs. It also challenges any outside watchdog review. Would anyone claim that Consumers' Reports ratings are invalid because the independent group does not involve the manufacturers? One cannot simply claim non-cooperation as a delegitimizing factor—essentially handing institutions a heckler's veto.

And of course, no one connected to higher education should try the argument from anecdote fallacy—but again that is the most common defense. Asserting, "That's not true at my school," is not only subjective, but it also attempts to argue from a single data point. If everyone else is wrong and the teaching field really does not need improving, than there should be no problem collecting a plethora of valid evidence in support of such a view. Yet that evidence, while often promised, has never been delivered.

In any case, we do not want our ratings to be used to bash teacher preparation programs. Instead we want our ratings to help programs improve. We want teacher preparation programs to incorporate research-proven methods so their graduates can be more effective in the classroom from their first day.

I sympathize with teacher educators who have devoted their lives to this low paying, frequently attacked profession. But in the current defensive posture, real problems remain neglected.

Teacher educators and their critics both want the same thing—a better education for tomorrow's teachers.

 

Teacher turnover hurts - but not in the way you think

10/13/2016

For a long time, we've heard about the damage done by teacher turnover. Often, the thinking is that schools struggle to replace the teachers who leave with replacements who perform at least as well or better.

And while it is true that high turnover can really hurt a school, it turns out that the damage is largely caused by the ripple effect of a teacher leaving, mainly the amount of grade switching that occurs. A new working paper from Eric Hanushek, Steven Rivkin, and Jeffrey Schiman measures the broader impact of teacher turnover in a large school district in Texas.

When a teacher leaves a school, the remaining teachers often have the opportunity to move around, selecting what might be considered 'better' grades and leaving the more 'difficult' grades to be taught by newer teachers. Not only do the new teachers have to deal with the more difficult assignment, but the teachers who switch grades, as some other recent research has found, are also less effective, at least in their first year teaching the new grade.

Not as new but always worth restating:  Hanushek et al. again find that the weaker teachers were more likely to leave their schools than strong teachers, which means that unfocused efforts to reduce turnover are not necessarily in the best interest of schools. 


 

More PD that makes a difference!

10/13/2016

If you look closely, they're actually not hard to find: inexpensive professional development opportunities for teachers that actually do make a real difference in student learning. Earlier this year, we covered an experiment that demonstrated that teachers are remarkably more empathic towards their students after completing just a brief 70-minute exercise. We also learned how pairing a highly skilled teacher with one who is struggling, even absent a formal curriculum, turns out to be more effective than a lot of higher priced PD models.

Now, we're offered new evidence that spending very little money giving teachers access to high-quality math lessons can yield big pay offs.

In a white paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, Kirabo Jackson and Alexey Makarin describe a nice little experiment in which 119 math teachers were given access to a library of inquiry-based lesson plans that currently runs at a cost of $320 per teacher for the year. Teachers also received a few occasional email reminders about the availability of the resources and were reminded that they could collaborate on Edmodo with other teachers also using the lessons. That was it.

The results were remarkable. By the end of the year, the growth in student achievement among these teachers was on par with far more costly efforts, such as reducing class size by 15 percent or replacing an average-quality teacher with a great one.

A couple of interesting points: 

First, it was the lowest performing teachers who saw the greatest gains.

Second, there were some teachers in the experiment who didn't get the email reminders and, with that group, there were no gains at all.

There are also some important caveats to this small study, including a significant decrease in lesson downloads and usage over time, suggesting that teachers did not themselves appreciate their value enough to implement more of them.

You can check out the lessons used in the study on the Mathalicious website. 


 

We never thought it would happen but US ED releases its teacher prep regs

10/13/2016

At long last the US Department of Education released its teacher prep regulations this week, prompting me to check my calendar. I had to look up the date of my first meeting with Department officials on the subject. Back then, I'd been willing to bet anyone that the Department would never finish its regulations – but nearly seven years later, this is a bet I've finally lost.

Were the regs worth the wait? On balance, yes--not just because they represent a big improvement over current Title II reporting requirements, but also because they reinforce the work many of the rest of us are doing on teacher prep.

What is most appealing about these regulations is more data and more transparency. States will need to annually survey principals and first-year teachers on the quality of the novice teachers' preparation programs. While many programs already engage in this practice, this requirement essentially requires a common survey, allowing for the first time real comparison among programs.

There will also be a slew of data generated about teacher supply, employment, and retention rates, perhaps putting to an end the current reliance on conjecture and anecdotes to predict when and where there's about to be a teacher shortage.

And in what may come as a surprise to some, I don't disagree with the decision to omit a requirement that states examine the test scores of students taught by prep programs' graduates.  While the Department may have just thrown up its hands at the amount of resistance to test scores, the use of value-added measures to assess program quality is in fact fraught with methodological difficulties, especially for smaller prep programs. To get enough data points to reach a sound judgment of program quality, it's often necessary to collect teachers' performance data for five, or even more, years after graduation. That hardly seems fair to programs. The fact is that value-added measures only produce meaningful results for the few programs turning out big numbers of graduates who go on to teach tested subjects each year, and in some cases, the programs whose graduates' performance is a clear outlier. 

A great substitute for test score data could be either candidates' pass rates on licensure tests, including the percentage of candidates passing these tests on their first attempt, as well as surveys of the students in teachers' first classrooms. Pass rates on licensing tests might have been something the Department insisted upon--though it's been down that road before to no avail both in the 1996 and 2008 HEA reauthorizations.

Importantly, these regs arrive at a singularly opportune moment--when the winds of change are blowing from every direction, including from within. It's certainly not just NCTQ raising the ruckus. The last five years has elicited unprecedented activity, with no fewer than 44 states passing significant teacher prep regulations. And what may be the biggest disruptor of all is the 30 percent drop in enrollment in teacher prep programs--for reasons that are anyone's guess, but which surely include the poor reputation of teacher prep. As anyone knows who has managed a budget, institutions are more likely to consider making changes when confronted with fiscal pressures.

The only aspect of the regulations that is absolutely without merit is the Department's decision to drop its requirement, present in previous drafts, that programs must raise their admissions standards. It's dropped in the final version because institutions made a lot of noise about the impact that raising standards will have on diversity. Not only is this common complaint denigrating to African American and Hispanic students—implying that a teaching career is only available to them if standards are kept intolerably low—but the consequence of an open door policy sounds a death knell for programs' ability to raise the rigor and quality of instruction. It perpetuates the low status of the education major on college campuses. The Department defends its decision by stating that its regulations set a high standard for program exit, but the details seem to imply that a candidate only need to pass the edTPA or a similar assessment which, in some states, is reporting about a 98 percent pass rate. 

It's not that the final version of these regulations doesn't bear the marks of heavy compromise; but on balance, the federal regulations are generally sensible and respectful of the parameters of federal authority – and provide a much-needed opportunity to illuminate how prep programs' graduates fare in the classroom.

I can safely say that this is one bet I'm happy to lose. 

 

Observing Success

09/26/2016

As we discussed earlier this month, holding teacher prep programs accountable for the performance of their graduates is no easy task. The data is often scant and researchers usually can't distinguish any standouts in a sea of mediocre or weak programs. 

That's why we are pretty enthusiastic about a new study from Matthew Ronfeldt and Shanyce Campbell of the University of Michigan. Previous studies looked only to one data source—graduates' value-added scores—to determine the strength of program graduates. These two researchers use multiple measures involving, first, teacher observation scores and, second, value-added scores. They unearth clear evidence that others have not: not all programs are created equal.

In the sample of 118 programs, 21 surface for graduating teachers who consistently have either higher observation scores than most other programs, or, conversely, consistently lower scores. 

The waters do get muddied a bit when folding back in the value-added measures. Not surprisingly, programs that did really well or really badly on observation scores didn't always have similar results on value-added. In fact only about 40 percent of the programs produced observation and value added scores that were similarly positive or negative.

Nevertheless, if a policymaker were to assess program quality by looking only at the overlapping data, it seems safe to conclude that there are programs clearly succeeding or failing--producing teachers who consistently get both great evaluations and great test score results or the reverse. 

When all was said and done, there were #25 standout programs in the state, but as is the frustrating custom of academic research, these programs were not identified.  

These promising results reinforce our interest in multiple measures for evaluating program quality. One such additional measure could be provided by TPI-US, essentially a comprehensive on-site inspection process imported from the United Kingdom. In its assessment process, teams of four trained education professionals visit prep programs to collect evidence on program quality as well as to provide actionable feedback. They observe student teachers and course instructors, examine data on candidate performance, and conduct interviews with key stakeholders, including graduates and leaders at the schools that hire them—all of which could serve as yet another source of data on a program's quality. 


 

But, We Still Need Licensure Tests

09/26/2016


Licensure tests: depending on who you ask, they're either an important check on a prospective teacher's knowledge before entering the profession or a burdensome requirement that keeps good candidates out of the classroom. A new study from CALDER researchers Dan Goldhaber, Trevor Gratz, and Roddy Theobald takes a look at the validity of a battery of tests taken by aspiring Washington state teachers.

The researchers studied the relationship between two kinds of licensing tests used in the state and student performance. Specifically, they examined the basic skills test that almost every Washington teacher must take in order to gain admission to a teacher preparation program and subject matter tests, limited in this study to teachers taking secondary math and biology tests.

The findings were mixed. The state's basic skills test served as a "modest" predictor of student outcomes in math and ninth-grade biology. So, too, was the biology test quite predictive. However, the math test was not particularly effective in predicting student performance.

What could explain a result that says subject matter knowledge in biology does matter but math does not?

Author Dan Goldhaber offers this insight: "The short answer is that we really don't fully understand these different results because there is so little evidence to date about what predicts the effectiveness of science teachers. A bit of speculation, however. It is important to remember here that we did find a relationship in math, just not as strong a one as might have been expected. After all, teachers who did better on the basic skills test—which includes math—were more effective. It would not surprise me if the math subject tests would have turned out to be more predictive for later high school math courses, such as calculus, where a teacher's specific content knowledge of calculus is without question important."

To that point, we were surprised to read that this study was enough for at least one education advocacy group, MarylandCAN, to issue a call for the end to meaningless licensing tests—in our view, a hair's breadth away from asserting that teacher's subject matter knowledge doesn't really matter. A slippery slope, indeed.


 

The Ghost of Teacher Shortages Past...

09/26/2016

Here's something I've been struggling to understand of late. What makes the prospect of a teacher shortage such an immediately compelling narrative, capable of spreading with all the speed of a brush fire?

With almost no real data--because neither states nor the federal government collect the data that's really needed to pronounce the onset of a teacher shortage--we witness the press, school districts, state school boards, and even the US Congress all concluding we are in the throes of a full blown national crisis.  

At the root of this crisis was a random New York Times news story published two summers ago in which eight school districts reported in August that they were having a tough time filling positions (though all but two ultimately started the year just fine). Whoosh! Overnight the teacher shortage became real.  

That early rumbling was then steadily fed by news stories that teacher preparation programs were facing unprecedented enrollment drops. Whoosh! Nobody thought it important to mention that teacher preparation programs had for years been graduating twice as many teachers as are needed.  

Get this. Over the last 30 years, programs have graduated between 175,000 and 300,000 teachers each year, yet consistently school districts have only hired somewhere between 60,000 to 140,000, with about 95,000 being the most recent number. 

The blaze reached new heights last week with a new report from Learning Policy Institute, producing a scary chart that shows an ever widening gap between teacher supply and demand over the next nine years. While I would not characterize LPI's supply and demand projections as irresponsible or even without some merit, they were predicated on glass-half-empty assumptions that economist Dan Goldhaber rightfully questioned in this 74 editorial. (It's also worth mentioning Mike Antonucci's reminder of the report's déjà-vu qualities given that LPI is led by Linda Darling-Hammond.)  

Let's make this simple. Simply by tweaking just one of the assumptions made by LPI, the results are altogether different. For example, if we project that the class size average of student to teacher is 16.1 to 1 (which, importantly, it is currently) rather than LPI's estimate of 15.3 to 1, voila! The shortage disappears entirely.

Anyone basing predictions on the available data needs to be transparent about the limitations and assumptions baked into the analysis-which I would argue LPI was not- and be clear that if anything changes (such as class size, or slower than expected student population growth, or a renewed interest in teaching following the end of the Great Recession), their predictions will shift dramatically.

The systems to report whether districts are facing a shortage exist in a small number of states (data is recent but not in real time) and not at the federal level at all. Contrast this to the reporting on the health of the American economy, which is done routinely with mountains of real-time data at the federal, state, and business levels. Even then, no one would declare a depression based on years-old data and rough hiring projections a decade from now. But somehow doing exactly this is ok for teacher shortages.

What I find so frustrating about all of this is that we do actually have a long standing, huge problem with teacher supply and demand - one that not only gets lost in the current rhetoric but that is, believe it or not, actually ill served by what could be a drummed up crisis.  

Let me explain this apparent contradiction in my logic.

For 30 years nearly every district in the nation has struggled to find enough secondary science and math teachers. Also and for just as long, rural and urban districts have been unable to tap into a reliable and stable source of new teachers, putting band aids like Teach For America on the problem.

One of the answers is to pay such teachers more than other teachers are paid, but most districts continue to reject that solution because it is untenable with their unions. For STEM teachers we could ramp up the availability of part-time teaching positions, but again few districts and states embrace this option--also because unions worry that districts will begin replacing full-time employees and their costly benefits with part-timers.

For even longer than those shortages have been so problematic, school districts have been awash with applicants for elementary teaching positions. That's because teacher prep programs don't see it as their job to tell their incoming candidates that they can't all major in elementary ed, that they'll need to consider another teaching field like special ed or ELL where there is real need.  The problem is that higher ed accepts no responsibility for aligning teacher production with district demand. Given that those teacher prep programs can't operate without state approval, states could conceivably impose limits on production in some areas.




 

Teacher Prep Programs: Why Run, When Everyone Else is Walking?

09/08/2016

If you want to judge the quality of a teacher prep program, one approach is obvious: examine whether the teachers who graduate from that program actually help students learn.

Easier said than done. Many factors affect whether a teacher will succeed in the classroom, and determining how training factors into that success requires more data and statistical power than is typically available. That's one of the reasons that academic researchers, states, accreditation agencies, and NCTQ's Teacher Prep Review assess prep programs mainly by measuring the program features known to influence teacher quality—such as admissions standards and what teacher candidates are being taught about reading instruction.

A new study from Paul T. von Hippel (UT-Austin) and his colleagues is among the most promising of the few studies that have sought to measure the direct impact of individual prep programs on student learning. Thanks to cooperation with the Texas Education Agency, he was able to examine outcomes across thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of students in the nation's second-largest state.

Unfortunately, even with this much data, they turned up little new evidence that one teacher prep program is better than another.

Given the impressive load of data that von Hippel et al. had at their disposal, this conclusion raises some red flags. The data set is unprecedented in size and includes a diverse set of traditional and alternative prep programs. Given this variety, it is reasonable to expect to be able to pinpoint at least a few obviously high or low performers. Instead, we see more evidence that many of the challenges in teacher prep likely exist across the board. It's a finding not unlike NCTQ's own much different scan of the landscape in which 80 percent of all teacher prep programs earned scores classifying them as weak or failing. 

The study authors use these results to warn policymakers against using student outcomes data to make decisions about program expansion and closure, reasoning that the programs were all too similar for anyone to be sure they were singling out the right ones. We're hoping Texas policymakers will start asking a new question: Why are programs continuing to operate without clear and specific standards for what teachers should know and be able to do?

 

Alt Cert: The Road Increasingly Taken?

09/08/2016

It's been 30 years since states first began experimenting with alternative certification (AC) pathways for teachers, and while these routes have become firmly entrenched in many districts' talent strategies, the debate over their value continues.

In a recent study in the American Educational Research Journal, Christopher Redding and Thomas M. Smith contribute some new evidence around two long contended points—namely, whether alternatively certified teachers are prepared for the classroom and whether they're likely to stick around.

Preparedness. Previous research has established that there is no clear answer to the question of whether teachers from AC routes are better prepared or more effective than their traditionally certified peers. As our own review of non-traditional teacher prep shows, there are some high-quality alternative preparers of teachers, and there are just as many, if not more, ineffective alternative preparation options.

Analyzing data from the government's Schools and Staffing Survey, Redding and Smith turn up an interesting new finding on trends in AC. In the 1999-2000 school year, 23 percent of alternatively certified teachers entered the profession with no practice teaching, compared to 8 percent of teachers entering from a traditional prep program. By 2011-2012, the proportion of AC teachers with no teaching experience had grown to 40 percent. Why? 

Retention. If you ask most people about the problems with alternative routes, the number-one gripe is usually that AC teachers leave the profession more quickly than traditional candidates. Redding and Smith show that this is the case, but that it wasn't always so. In the 1999-2000 school year, there was little difference in the retention rates between early career AC and traditionally prepared teachers. By 2007-2008, however, the predicted turnover rate for AC teachers was 10 percentage points higher than that of traditionally trained candidates, even when controlling for school environment.  

Redding and Smith's work serves as another reminder that the quality of alternative certification programs matters—which is something we've been saying for a long time. Moreover, we'd do well to remember that most alternative certification programs are expensive to districts, candidates, and communities alike. With around a quarter of early career teachers now entering through AC pathways, the need to measure the returns on this investment is greater than ever.

 

Dyslexia and Teacher Prep Dysfunction

09/08/2016

Is it too much to ask that professionals stay abreast of the research? The authors of a recently published study, "The Dyslexia Dilemma," don't think it is and the extended title of the study suggests the reasons why without mincing words: "A History of Ignorance, Complacency and Resistance in Colleges of Education."[1] The study highlights the fact that the Science of Reading instruction is neither studied nor taught in teacher prep programs.

For 20 percent of children, reading is the most complicated, difficult endeavor they will face probably until adulthood. Often these children who struggle to learn to read are labeled "dyslexic." The term has been medicalized into a neurological syndrome across the board. The authors of this study, led by David Hurford, contend that these children are simply not being properly taught. The authors' dissatisfaction with the failure of teacher preparation programs to teach the science of reading to aspiring teachers almost rises to the level of outrage—as well it should.

In spite of decades of research and legislation going back to the 1980s' A Nation at Risk, the 1990's America's Schools Act, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the 2001 National Reading Panel Report, the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, and the Common Core State Standards initiative, reading achievement in the United States remains stagnant. By NAEP measures, reading achievement remains at 1992 levels. Well over 50 percent of children in grades 4, 8, and 12 do not read at a proficient level. Even the attempted "end run" of a couple decades of teaching to the test has not caused the scores to budge.

Failure to learn to read has dire consequences reaching beyond the school years well into adulthood. The psychosocial issues related to dyslexia include low self-esteem, depression, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, incarceration, poverty, social dysfunction, and more. Failure to learn to read proficiently also constitutes a national economic liability. 

Nonetheless, a survey of hundreds of teachers revealed serious gaps in teachers' knowledge of basic scientific findings. It's especially lacking when it comes to their need to understand the structural phonology of language and its relationship to learning to read. Only 20 percent in a sample of over 700 teachers could segment words into speech sounds, for example. The teachers surveyed reported that they had never received formal instruction in phonological processing.

NCTQ has documented this lack of instruction in the reading courses taken by teachers. So too has Kelly Butler from the Barksdale Institute in Mississippi, Milt Joshi from Texas A&M, and several others. Not surprisingly, phonemic awareness is the single most absent topic in reading syllabi. So let's be clear about reading failure and teacher accountability: teachers cannot teach what they themselves have not been taught.

In the same way that teachers cannot teach what they have not been taught, neither can college instructors. The difference is that college instructors have a responsibility to be on the cusp of research. Both the ignorance and culpability are systemic in colleges of education.

In addition to documenting the pervasive weaknesses in reading found in most Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs, Hurford et al point to the persistence of myth in teacher preparation, the most insidious of all being the idea that learning to read is a natural, innate process—the myth that gave rise to the scientifically discredited and abject failure of the "Whole Language" approach to reading instruction. 

Many children who come to school ready to read are labeled dyslexic. The etiology of their dyslexia notwithstanding, they can be taught to read. Hurford et al close with: "Children with dyslexia and reading difficulties are waiting to be taught to read and the knowledge and skills necessary to do so exist. It is essential that the Science of Reading become part of the vocabulary, knowledge base and training within colleges of education." Children who are neurologically dyslexic or just struggling to learn to read will continue to suffer until the benefits of scientific findings gleaned over decades of research with tens of thousands of children and adults make their way into college classrooms.

Bob Marino leads the NCTQ review of reading coursework as part of the Teacher Prep Review and is a former principal in Baltimore City Public Schools.



[1]Hurford D, Hurford J, Head K, Keiper M, Nitcher S, Renner L. (2016) "The Dyslexia Dilemma: A History of Ignorance, Complacency and Resistance in colleges of Education." Journal of Childhood & Developmental Disorders. ISSN 2472-1786 Vol. 2 Num. 3:26 http://www.carrdinc.org/TheDyslexiaDilemma.pdf


 

Sam Stringfield

08/18/2016

The entire Teacher Preparation Strategies team was saddened to learn of the death of Sam Stringfield, a member of the Technical Panel for the Teacher Prep Review. Sam's passion for better teacher preparation was evident in all of his advice, often expressed in no-holds-barred emails that overflowed with wit and wisdom.

 

Beware of the ‘Pupil Factory’

08/18/2016

For most students, the start of middle school represents some newfound independence. For the first time, they get to travel the halls from class to class without being led by an adult.

Of course, this new freedom stems from how middle schools are set up. Few teachers have the training to teach every subject in the middle school curriculum so instead of having one primary teacher, there are at least four. Students find themselves traveling to the teachers, each a specialist in their subject area.

There's been a lot of debate over the years about when to introduce subject specialization. In fact many elementary schools introduce the model at 4th grade.

But a strong new study from Harvard economist Roland Fryer calls into question that practice.

Fryer conducted a two-year experiment in 50 public elementary schools in Houston, Texas. Half of the schools remained on a traditional elementary school schedule; in the other half, principals assigned teachers to teach specific subjects based on their observed strengths and previous value-added scores.

For the most part, assigning teachers to specific subjects didn't make much of a difference—and when it did, that difference was generally negative. Reading and math scores declined, while problem behaviors and absences actually increased—albeit to a small degree. Basic economic theory predicted an efficient assembly line in which every teacher installed her piece; reality told another story.

It's hard to know exactly why the experiment didn't have better results. Perhaps teacher specialization would have a positive impact if teachers received extra training in their assigned subjects. Perhaps lost time getting to know each individual student eliminates any benefits that could come from specialization.

Regardless of the cause, the results serve as a helpful reminder that elementary teachers need a strong grounding in all four traditional content areas, not just the ones they're more drawn to, as principals can't simply rearrange staff based on interest or inclination and expect better student outcomes. Further, Fryer's study is robust, using a large sample size, multi-year implementation, sound experimental design, and realistic policy implementation. As this study failed to find a benefit to teacher specialization in Houston's elementary schools, it's unlikely that other districts would fare better. 

 

Teacher diversity: Grounding our goals in reality

08/18/2016

One feature of an ideal school environment, we believe, is that both students and their teachers reflect America in all of its diversity. Everyone, including children coming from privilege, benefits from a diverse school experience.

It's no wonder that as the minority student population has grown in numbers in the past few decades, surpassing 50 percent, so many of us are troubled that the minority teacher population has failed to keep pace, standing now at only 18 percent minority. The push to achieve racial parity between teachers and students has never been stronger, with urgent calls from school boards, states, and even the U.S. Department of Education for the nation to make teacher diversity a top goal for school districts.

This sentiment is understandable, commendable, but — at the risk of being a wet blanket — not even remotely achievable within the foreseeable future.

No matter how you run the numbers, school districts simply cannot recruit and retain enough black and Hispanic teachers to achieve racial parity between the teacher workforce and the U.S. student body – no matter how many reprimands HR officials have to face from the their school boards for the paltry results.

Researchers from NCTQ and The Brookings Institution recently analyzed what it would take to create a teaching workforce as diverse as the students it serves. You can find a full report of our analysis and findings here.

We estimate the effects of different interventions that might increase the number of minority teachers, extrapolating population projections for the next four decades to see how close they can come to creating a racially representative teacher workforce.

The findings are startling: parity or even significant inroads to parity will remain completely elusive unless we fire on all cylinders. If we can somehow boost the rates of college completion, interest in teaching, hiring, and retention so that these rates for black and Hispanic college students and adults mirror the rates of their white counterparts, then parity becomes an achievable goal – but is still several decades away.

How can this be?

Let's walk through what we found, drawing on a model we built using U.S. Census projections and data about the current teacher and student populations to estimate the impact of various interventions.

For example, let's see where a big push on retention of black teachers gets us. Currently, 16 percent of America's public school students are black, compared to 7 percent of teachers, creating a nine percentage point gap in the diversity of students and teachers.

What could happen if schools took real and substantive steps to retain their black teachers so that year in and year out black teachers stay in the classroom at the same rate as white teachers (improving their current attrition rate from 10 percent to mirror white teachers' 7 percent)? We still wouldn't close the diversity gap even projecting out to 2060 (the furthest year of Census projections available).

Next, imagine we committed ourselves heart, body, and soul (as many districts are, in fact, trying to do) to hire more black teachers. The rewards would be tiny even projecting all the way out to 2060.

Okay, so what about persuading more black college students to consider teaching? Higher education could heavily promote teaching with undergraduates, or graduate programs and alternative providers could recruit more black candidates—something that many claim to be doing already. But let's imagine pouring some real resources into these strategies, such as increased salaries, loan forgiveness, or more leadership opportunities to succeed in persuading black adults to consider teaching at the same rate as white adults (currently 4.3 percent of black undergraduate students major in education compared with 6.9 percent of white undergraduates; we see similar disparities for graduate college education degrees and alternative certification enrollment).

Again, the results would be fairly paltry – closing the diversity gap by about two and a half percentage points by 2060.

I'm guessing that a lot of people reading this are thinking "but look at the success of Teach For America, now recruiting new cohorts which are about 50 percent teachers of color?" TFA was able to achieve these huge gains in part because it developed unprecedented recruitment efforts of minority students beginning in their freshmen year—a great strategy to emulate. But keep in mind that the corps is tiny compared to America's needs. Teach For America supplies less than 3 percent of the nation's teachers. Its hard push on this problem still only produced about 800 new black corps members in a year. That's enough to translate into significant gains for TFA, which is only recruiting some 4,100 teachers in a year, but remains a far cry from the 300,000 more black teachers needed to achieve parity across all American schools.

Let's go back to the point of greatest disparity between black and white students: the college completion rate. If we invest heavily to support black students and ameliorate their low college completion rate so that they graduate college at the same rate as white students (currently 28 percent of black 22-year olds have earned a bachelor's degree, compared with 47 percent of white 22-year olds), we still will not come close to closing the gap by 2060.

Disheartening, no?

For Hispanic teachers, the dismal scenario is much the same. In fact because the Hispanic population in the US is growing at such a fast rate, much faster than the black population, the diversity gap is expected to widen if we do not take action.

Only if we are able to graduate more Hispanic teachers from college or draw more Hispanic adults into careers in teaching can we reduce the growing diversity gap significantly, otherwise expected to be 22 percentage points by 2060.

Clearly, the answer is to combine all these interventions and be successful at all of them (success defined here as achieving the same rates as their white counterparts) to make any real dent. If over the next decade we were to improve college completion rates, interest in teaching, hiring, and retention to mirror that of white teachers at every point, we would actually achieve parity by the year 2044 for black teachers and students. The picture is less cheery for Hispanic teachers, only coming within the ballpark (three percentage points away from racial parity) by consistent pushes through 2060.

So are we suggesting we all throw up our hands and give up on achieving greater parity? Absolutely not. But let's not underestimate the ambition, commitment, and persistence needed, or browbeat school superintendents or human resources officials when they are only able to make incremental progress. Let's also not advocate for racial parity at the expense of quality. The research is clear that students' success still depends most on the quality of their teachers

In the meantime, other important solutions can achieve greater equity in our schools. Let's look for meaningful ways to ensure that teachers – who want to do right by their students – don't unintentionally do harm to the kids who don't look like them. Let's go beyond the stuff of current trainings in which teachers and teacher candidates engage in a lot of reflecting on their implicit biases, analyzing their white privilege, or developing cultural sensitivity, much of which hasn't had much impact – although these do play an important role. Let's do more to have teachers examine their daily interactions with students by asking themselves: which students do they call on to answer questions? Are some students more likely to receive harsher disciplinary actions than others? Do they select some groups of students for more challenging work over others? Give teachers the training and tools to make sure that they do not allow their biases along race, gender, class, or any other lines to get in the way of helping every child thrive.

-Kate Walsh and Hannah Putman

 

A suspension solution?

08/18/2016

It's a popular movie theme—the story of that one teacher who really connects with students, setting them on the right path to a productive future.

Now, thanks to a fascinating little experiment by Jason A. Okonofua and his colleagues at Stanford University, we know a little more about how schools could easily reduce discipline problems: make the teachers more empathetic.

Here's the setup. Math teachers in five California middle schools participated in just two short online sessions—one just 45 minutes long, the other a mere 25 minutes long. In these sessions they read stories about the importance of developing positive relationships with students. Then, they were asked to write about applying such approaches in their own teaching.

The brief, simple nature of this intervention makes the subsequent results all the more impressive. Compared to a control group, students taught by a "trained" teacher were half as likely to be suspended over the school year. Better still, this reduction held among students who had been previously suspended and for all race and gender subgroups. Previously suspended students clearly noticed the difference, reporting that their teachers treated them with more respect.

What made such a simple approach so powerful? It could be that it empowered teachers as experts. Initially, the researchers told the teachers that they were seeking their input as professional educators, noting that their writing exercise would become part of a new teacher training program, "so future teachers can benefit from your experience and insights." This approach encouraged teachers to see themselves as leaders rather than "recipients of remediation." Take note, PD providers.

 

NCTQ welcomes its newest board member

07/28/2016

  

We're thrilled to welcome NCTQ's newest addition to our Board of Directors, Paul Kihn. Paul brings with him the ideal resume to guide NCTQ into the future having taught middle school both in the US and South Africa, earning his school district stripes as the #2 in Philadelphia's public schools and as an educational consultant for McKinsey & Company. Welcome Paul! 

 

A long fall to the bottom: Missing coursework in teacher prep

07/28/2016

You can't teach what you don't know—and when it comes to math, some teachers just don't know enough.  Why?  

Michigan State University professor William H. Schmidt and his colleagues look at the mathematics that American middle school teachers took during their teacher preparation and produce some hard evidence of prevailing substandard preparation.

First though, recall some earlier work in which Schmidt examined how teachers were prepared in 16 countries. There, he unearthed the essential knowledge for middle school teachers based on the relationship between coursework and teachers' strong performance on an international assessment of math content knowledge and math pedagogical content knowledge. The top performing teachers had all studied nine topics, including linear algebra, calculus, probability, differential equations, functions/equations and also had opportunities to analyze math instruction.

This latest study looks more closely at US preparation, examining how many US programs deliver this essential content. Even on this basic question, Schmidt finds enormous, inexplicable variations among institutions in what they consider to be essential content. Schmidt estimates that only about a third of America's middle school teachers took coursework addressing this content. For the rest of teachers, a sizeable portion of the content never gets covered. Compare that to some of our international counterparts which include a number of countries where 80 percent of all teachers learned essential content. 

Percentage of Middle School Teachers Who Completed at Least Eight of Nine Essential Math Courses

                                  

 

If you threaten, will they come?

07/28/2016

If half the battle is just showing up, some teachers have already lost the war.

That's what we learned in our 2014 study Roll Call: The Importance of Teacher Attendance. In 40 large school districts, we found that while most teachers come to work regularly, a significant number of teachers (44 percent across the districts) missed a heck of a lot of school—11 or more days in an average school year.

Last month, the US Department of Education followed suit, releasing data that reinforces our findings. And, just like Roll Call, it revealed inexplicable differences among states, with Utah and South Dakota reporting relatively low rates of chronic absenteeism but others faring much worse, with 75 percent of teachers in Hawaii and 49 percent of teachers in Nevada missing more than 10 days per year.

Neither NCTQ nor the Education Department data sheds light on why some schools struggle so much with this basic personnel practice. So there's much to be said for new research from Seth Gershenson which unearths at least one device that improves teacher attendance: threat of sanctions.

Looking at data from the early days of No Child Left Behind, Gershenson examines how K-5 teachers in North Carolina responded when their school failed to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP). Teachers in schools that failed to make AYP in 2003 significantly reduced their absences in the following year by about 10 percent. Chronic absenteeism (when teachers miss 15 or more days) fell by 20 percent.

Not surprisingly, these declines in teacher absences translated to real gains in student achievement.

NCLB was certainly not without its flaws, but this study serves as another reminder that strong systems of accountability lead to positive outcomes—and that every day a teacher spends in her classroom matters to her students. The challenge of teacher absences is unlikely to have a single solution, but we're grateful for any additional insight.

 

Picking your data battles

07/12/2016

Every great teacher knows that her grading practices need to be fair. And any good policymaker should know that teachers expect the same of their own performance evaluations.

That's one of the reasons why in 2014, the U.S. Department of Education offered states the option to delay using student growth data to evaluate teachers during the transition to new state standards and assessments. "These changes are incredibly important," Arne Duncan explained, "and educators should not have to make them in an atmosphere of worry."

Still, many wondered: Would the new test scores actually have led to inaccurate value-added measures for teachers?

To help settle the essentially theoretical question, Ben Backes and his colleagues examined value-added scores from before, during, and after states' transition to new standards and assessments. The five-state study, conducted with support from CALDER, included changes that occurred during the Common Core era and as far back as 2001.

The conclusion: assessment data from transition years would have produced the same evaluation results for teachers as the older tests.

The researchers analyzed the data from multiple angles, including the correlation of value-added scores from year to year, the likelihood that a top- or bottom-ranked teacher in one year would rank in the same range the next year, and differences in teacher performance rankings by classroom type (advantaged or disadvantaged). All in all, transition-year math assessments performed about the same as in other years across all five states; in reading, two states saw slightly more variability during transition periods.

It's good news, but it doesn't mean the one-year moratorium was a mistake. For teachers who were already skeptical of value-added in 2014, the message that transition-year data would likely be much the same as data from any other year probably wouldn't have soothed any anxieties. A smart political decision, even if there was no crisis to avert. 

 

When it comes to teacher quality, do states really matter?

07/12/2016

Of late, I've been holding my own internal debate. Is getting states to change their teacher policies worth all the time and effort that it takes x 50?

For nearly a decade, NCTQ has taken an aggressive stance on the need to fix states' teacher policies and we've had some great successes to boast about. Over that period, all but eight states have made significant improvements to their teacher policies. Yet, I'm still left with a nagging feeling that maybe these impressive changes aren't having the game changing impact on teacher quality we anticipated. There's all too much evidence of their derailment by school districts and teacher preparation programs.

But I've now encountered new evidence of the harm that even seemingly innocuous state policies have on teacher quality. While state policies will never be the full answer, I've concluded, they must be an essential part of the equation.

What's that evidence? Last month we released a study looking at an array of essential content and skills that preschool teachers need but aren't learning about in their teacher prep programs, skills like how to handle a disruptive four-year-old or how to build language skills and lay the foundation for learning to read.

As we dug into why so much essential—and noncontroversial—content was missing from these programs, we hit on an interesting pattern. It turns out that the more grade levels any one prep program tried to cover in teacher training, the less likely a program was to deliver the content preschool teachers need.

This chart explains more. It shows the big variations in grade spans among states for the purpose of certifying teachers. States, after all, don't certify a teacher to only teach first grade but are more likely to certify a teacher to teach any elementary grade.

In states like Mississippi and West Virginia, the state requires that preschool teachers have to train with only aspiring preschool and kindergarten teachers. Accordingly their coursework is more geared to that specialized content. In other states, however, it is acceptable for a single program to prepare teachers for anything from preschool to grade 6 (Texas) or even birth to grade 6 (Wisconsin), setting the same course requirements for everyone in the program. In Oregon, it is even possible for preschool teachers to train with teachers intending to teach 8th grade!

It may be tempting to blame this problem all on the universities where the training occurs. After all state officials would be right in claiming that these teacher prep programs could choose to more narrowly train teachers no matter what state code dictates. They rarely do though.  It is surely considerably less expensive for a university to manage a one-size-fits-all program over several more narrowly focused programs.

This is not just a higher ed problem however. Teachers love the flexibility of broad certifications, as they can teach more grades without having to go back to get recertified. Principals and districts love it even more because the staffing flexibility makes scheduling a lot easier. 

I'll never forget a conversation I had with some folks running what is largely regarded as one of the best STEM teacher prep programs in the country. They bristled at NCTQ's criticism over the preparation of candidates under the state's highly flawed general science certification. "We're only giving the principals in this state what they want," they asserted. "They only want science teachers who are certified to teach any science. They don't really care that they're not really all that well qualified."

That brings me to my second point.  The only entity that can claim disinterest here is the state and that's often the case. To the state falls the responsibility to do what is right by teachers, because neither higher ed nor schools are apt to work against their own self interests. All of which brings me back to my original concern: what happens even if the state does the right thing? In this case, if Texas, Wisconsin and Oregon (to name a few of the worst offenders) were to adopt more narrowly defined certifications for training preschool teachers, would the problem be fixed? No, but it's the first hurdle. The second hurdle is to get prep programs to change what they teach. A move by the state not only shifts the onus of responsibility to teacher prep programs but it sends an important signal that how we prepare teachers for our young children matters. 

 

The power of partnerships

06/16/2016

In the face of all evidence on the (apparently) utter uselessness of most professional development, might there be something that works? A new NBER working paper claiming just that perked up our ears.

Researchers John Papay, Eric Taylor, John Tyler, and Mary Laski employed a relatively simple approach. High- and low-performing teachers in Tennessee were paired together based on their professional strengths and weaknesses and then asked to spend a year developing the low-performer's skills that needed improving.

That's it.

No new, mandatory meetings. No expensive coaches. No new policies. And cheap. The only real cost to schools was the time the teachers needed to work with each other—and even that was left to the discretion of each school.

The results were astounding: in classrooms taught by low-performing teachers, students scored, on average, 0.12 standard deviations higher than students in the control classrooms. To put that in perspective, the authors compare this improvement to what you would expect from a student assigned to a teacher ranked at the median rather than in the bottom quartile—or to an experienced teacher rather than a novice teacher. There was also evidence to suggest that the gains in teacher performance persisted or even grew in the year after the partnership was completed.

Might this be a one-hit wonder? After all, it only looked at 136 teachers who all taught in the middle grades. A study of the impact on a larger sample is in the works. For the cost, though, we think it might be worth a try elsewhere!

 

Preschool teacher prep: illusions of quality

06/16/2016

30 million words. It's a staggering number representing the tremendous gap in the number of utterances (not distinct words) a child hears by age four—depending on where his family falls on the socioeconomic spectrum.

Preschool is regarded by many as the best opportunity for an early course correction, allowing all children to be launched on a successful academic—and life—trajectory no matter what is happening at home. Yet the jury is still out on whether preschool can deliver on that promise. Research on the long lasting contributions of preschool is at best mixed.

There's a lot of conjecture about why preschool investments may not pay off as much as one might expect: the length of the preschool, parents' involvement, support services, low quality curricula, and poor oversight.

One more plausible but largely ignored explanation remains: poor and/or uneven preparation of preschool teachers.

While preschool teachers' dismally low salaries have garnered lots of attention, even this week, there's been little attention to the training given to preschool teachers before they enter the classroom.

A new NCTQ study to be released next week explores whether programs are delivering essential content preschool teachers need. After all, beyond being patient and caring, preschool teachers must be able to learn and practice a wide swath of essential skills.

Put more practically, when faced with the tremendous gaps in language skills in a classroom of 20 four-year-olds, how many of us would have an inkling of where to start?

Many preschool advocates heavily champion the notion that all preschool teachers must earn a bachelor's degree in order to guarantee sufficient quality. Some 33 states now require that the preschool teachers in the programs they fund must have bachelor's degrees.

Though there's been little hard research to help guide that requirement, states made what seemed like a safe bet, assuming that teachers who earn a bachelor's degree are more likely to learn how to create a higher quality preschool environment than teachers who do not earn one.

Yet, as it turned out, the assumption was just that, an assumption. 

Our new study out on June 22nd, Some Assembly Required, takes a look at a healthy sample of 100 teacher preparation programs located in 29 states. The vast majority of these 100 programs conferred degrees: 54 led to a bachelor's degree and 41 to a master's, as well as 5 at the associate's degree level. We looked at course requirements, course descriptions, syllabi, student teaching handbooks, observation instruments, and textbooks to identify high-level evidence of key content.

A review of these multiple factors reveals that almost all of these programs fail to reference even basic content needed for a teacher to learn how to build children's language, a precursor to becoming a successful reader.

In many programs, the instructional skills specific to the job of preschool teaching are marginalized, buried by other content only relevant to a teacher of later grades. Even on paper, programs do not claim to devote much—or any—time to training candidates in developing young children's language skills and vocabulary or building critical literacy skills.

It's not just language and literacy that get short shrift. We found even less evidence of programs attending to the knowledge preschool teachers need to build math skills, explore early science concepts, or help children develop executive functioning skills. 

We're all for raising the bar for educators, especially those that play the crucially important role of teaching young children. A bachelor's degree makes sense. But we need to make sure that the sheepskin earned by the preschool teacher stands for something relevant and valuable.

Want to learn more? Join the webinar next Wednesday, June 22.

 

Shining some light on our hidden biases

05/26/2016

We’ve known for years that students of color are underrepresented in gifted education programs across the country, with black and Hispanic students making up 40 percent of public school attendees but only 26 percent of students receiving gifted services.

While the problem has been acknowledged, there’s been little understanding as to why students of color continue to be so underrepresented. Some conclude that it’s the inevitable result of the persistent achievement gap. For others, it’s just stark evidence of racial prejudice.

Previous research into this issue has been hampered by analysis which couldn’t dig deep enough as data were only available at the school, not classroom, level. Vanderbilt researchers Jason A. Grissom and Christopher Redding authored a more recent study which uses classroom data using the National Center of Education Statistics’ Early Childhood Longitudinal Study sample, making it possible to control for variations in poverty, health, or test scores.

While differences in students’ test scores were able to explain why a disproportionate number of Hispanic students failed to be admitted into the gifted programs, such differences were not able to explain the lower percentage of black students when compared to their white peers. In fact, a black student could have the same test score as a white student and be half as likely to be assigned to a gifted program.

Grissom and Redding attribute these staggering findings to two factors.

First, black students are less likely than white students to attend schools with gifted programs: 90 percent of white children attend a school offering gifted programming compared to 83 percent of black students.

More disturbing is the second reason. White teachers were far less likely to refer their black students to gifted programs. On the other hand, black teachers referred all races of students with equal frequency.

So what can be done to address this problem? 

1.  Schools could increase teacher diversity so that black children are more likely taught by black teachers.

The problem is that this solution is too long-term, with too many students being overlooked in the meantime. And, even if we manage to significantly increase teacher diversity, there will still be too many teachers who fail to recognize giftedness in black students. After all, 80 percent of all teachers are white.

2.  Don’t let teachers decide who gets into a gifted program.

Universal screening has led to an increase in gifted minority identification in the districts which have gone that route, but it is an expensive solution and still prone to scoring bias. 

3.  Train teachers and teacher candidates to recognize their own bias.

This last solution is what we assert is most practical and immediately actionable. Why not, for example, as part of any teacher’s training have them participate in a simulation in which they evaluate essays of students with stereotypical black and white names? As we learned from a similar experiment, teachers will likely be surprised to learn the extent to which they unconsciously judge students differently based on their race. Just making teachers aware of these behaviors will be an important first step toward changing them.

We’d suggest one additional solution along these lines: teachers, faculty, and school districts should make it routine to employ bias checks on any set of decisions where race might have been a factor, however unintended: line leader in kindergarten, the top reading group, suspensions, honors classes, crossing guard helper, and gifted referrals—the million and one decisions made in schools every day which can send the wrong signals to children about their place in the world.

 

Three reasons why every teacher prep program should adopt the edTPA…or not.

05/26/2016

Over the last few decades, the field of teacher education has heavily promoted the use and even the mandatory adoption by states of standardized assessments that can be used to judge how well a teacher candidate can deliver a lesson. The push has come with a promise that these "TPAs" fulfill three important and otherwise largely elusive functions:

1.  They would help programs to better structure training on how to plan and deliver instruction far better than the home-grown efforts used by most programs.

2.  They identify the quality of candidates and therefore can serve a gatekeeper for entry into the profession.

3.  They provide information which states could use in the aggregate to hold programs accountable for their training.

We concluded four years ago that the edTPA adequately fulfills the first function. TPAs are an exponential improvement over the rubrics and observation forms most programs use to assess a "live" lesson.

A new study from three researchers at CALDER (Dan Goldhaber, James Cowan, and Roddy Theobald) provides evidence on this second function—whether TPAs actually identify the more capable candidates who deserve to be entrusted with a classroom of children.  That's long overdue given the pressure that AACTE and others have put on states to adopt an instrument without any evidence that it was predictive of teacher performance.

As was widely reported in the press last week, results from graduates of teacher prep programs in Washington state (one of the first states to adopt the edTPA) are mixed. Goldhaber et al. found that a passing score in the reading portion of the edTPA is significantly predictive of teacher effectiveness in reading, but not in the math portion.

Given that the edTPA is a lot of work for programs and is costly to boot, is this enough bang for the buck? After all, instructions for candidates entail 40 pages and candidates are alerted that they can be evaluated on the edTPA on nearly 700 different items. The process consumes the attention of teacher candidates and teacher educators in their programs for a good share of candidates' semester-long student teaching placement. 

There's a strong argument that the complexity is merited if it prevents unqualified persons from teaching—unless the same results could be had with a lot less time and investment.  A recent study on the measures employed by District of Columbia Public Schools to screen its teacher applicants indicates that one of the components with predictive validity is simply a 10-minute audition. A few more studies with similar results may make it difficult to justify blanketing the nation with edTPA requirements.

That leaves the third function: program accountability. According to Goldhaber, the variation of scores of candidates within Washington programs is greater than the variation of scores across programs. This result, which Goldhaber did not publish, means that all but the most egregiously low performing programs are likely to have candidates whose scores vary considerably across the range.  

The bottom line to date in this still-unfolding story about TPAs: the edTPA 1) is a good organizing vehicle for training, 2) may produce scores that at least partially discriminate among candidates in terms of effectiveness—but through a process that appears to be unnecessarily cumbersome, and 3) may produce scores that cannot be used to hold programs accountable because they are insufficiently related to the quality of candidate training. 

 

In memory of Barry Kaufman

05/11/2016

On behalf of the entire Teacher Preparation Strategies team, I want to express our sadness at the death of Barry Kaufman and our condolences to his wife of 50 years, Gail. Barry provided NCTQ with invaluable assistance for close to six years as a member of the Technical Panel for the Teacher Prep Review. Barry’s expertise—gained from serving as an ed school dean and as a member of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing—was combined with an unwavering commitment to improve teacher preparation. He always made himself available to NCTQ staff for consultation and helped us to ensure that the picture of teacher prep painted in NCTQ reports is accurate. We will miss Barry’s endless goodwill and spot-on advice! 

 

A glimmer of hope on the bleak PD front

05/11/2016

The headline of a new study from Matthew A. Kraft (Brown University) and David Blazar (Harvard Graduate School of Education) caught our eye: Intensive, personalized coaching programs can improve teacher performance substantially.

Professional development that works? Well… perhaps.

The two researchers examined New Orlean's yearlong adaptation of a coaching program from Boston-based MATCH School. Participants spend a week in a summer workshop followed by four one-week sessions of observation and feedback. Importantly, the participants teach a range of grades and subjects, distinguishing the program from more common coaching interventions that focus on early literacy.

Teachers who got the coaching scored significantly higher than the uncoached teachers on an index of teacher quality that includes classroom observation scores, principal evaluation, and student surveys. In fact, the impact of having been coached exceeded even the impact of a teacher gaining more experience. The difference between coached and uncoached groups was nearly 50 percent higher than the difference between novice and experienced teachers.

Coached teachers outperformed uncoached teachers by 0.59 standard deviations. For comparison, experienced teachers (3+ years experience) outperformed novice teachers (1 or 2 years experience) by a smaller margin of 0.44 standard deviations.

Despite relying on a generally strong methodology, the size of the sample involving only 30 matched pairs tones down our enthusiasm a tad. But more importantly, the sample is restricted to teachers from urban charter schools who wanted to participate in the program—meaning that this approach may not translate well to other settings or less willing groups of teachers.

Still, given how little we know about how to help teachers improve, even preliminary evidence of some ways professional development might become more effective is noteworthy.

 

A drummed up teacher shortage crisis

05/11/2016

Isn’t it amazing how someone or some things gain traction when the facts clearly aren’t on their side? 

Just like the media handed off most of its airtime and column inches to elevate Donald Trump's candidacy, so too is the media guilty of announcing a crisis in teacher supply when the facts just don’t support it. 

While there are no data to suggest we are in the midst of teacher shortage, there are certainly school districts that are experiencing real problems—but they're largely the same school districts which have been struggling for years, even in times the media was reporting big teacher layoffs.

There are some data to suggest that enrollment has dropped considerably in some teacher preparation programs in some states. But as we'll show, it's a big leap to say that the drop in enrollment means there won't be enough teachers.

These two graphs from economist Dan Goldhaber illustrate the importance of taking the long view.

This first graph does indeed show that the number of new teachers produced since 2008 has declined. But keep in mind that that drop was preceded by a three-decade period of enrollment growth, far outpacing the demand year-in and year-out (as the second graph shows). America's 1,450+ institutions which train teachers have been OVER-enrolling for years.

The current decline is what we normally see when unemployment dips and the pool of folks looking for work isn't as large as in other years.

And as programs have not traditionally seen it as their responsibility to direct candidates to shortage teaching areas (e.g. special ed), there continue to be massive misalignment between the types of teachers trained and the types of teachers public schools need to hire.

Most notably, programs have been routinely graduating twice as many new elementary teachers as public schools hire each year.

Even when confronted with these facts, many districts have begun to panic. In part they have grown accustomed to dealing with a pretty distorted labor market and the low quality of many teacher candidates. They're used to having to sort through a pile of resumes to find a single good hire. They are also often not nimble or flexible enough to adapt their recruiting and hiring practices to a tighter job market.

 What then is a reasonable response to a downturn in teacher production?  It's not to open the floodgates and let just anyone teach. We need to continue to encourage teacher prep programs to become more selective and do a better job preparing new teachers so that districts don't have to count on 20 resumes to find a single qualified teacher.

Districts would do well to tap into the enormous pool of the many hundreds of thousands of people who were certified to teach but never did. Some estimates put the percentage of new teacher graduates who don't actually teach at 50 percent. Neither states nor districts make it easy for those folks to reconsider the profession a few years down the road.

 

A fault in our measures? Evidence of bias in classroom observations may raise some familiar concerns

04/28/2016

   

A lot of us can rattle off the possible shortcomings of using value-added test scores to evaluate teachers: The scores vary from year to year. They lack transparency. They cannot control for other events going on in the classroom, like broken air conditioning or teachers consistently being assigned exceptionally motivated students.

Sad to say, these problems aren’t relegated to the statistical wizardry behind VAM—it turns out classroom observation scores may suffer from many of the same ills.

New research from Matthew Steinberg of the University of Pennsylvania and Rachel Garrett of the American Institutes for Research employed data from the Methods of Effective Teaching study to look at how classroom composition relates to teachers’ observation scores.

First, they found that teachers who were assigned to high-performing students were more likely to earn higher observation scores. They also found that some domains of the evaluation instrument used in this study (the Danielson framework) appeared to give teachers undue credit for traits, achievement levels, and other factors students arrived with at the start of the school year; domains like “engaging students in learning” and “establishing a culture for learning,” which rely heavily on student-teacher interaction, were the primary culprits. The authors offer two competing hypotheses for these higher scores: they could be a sign of observer bias—meaning, for example, that a teacher might get a score boost for having an eager and well-behaved class, even if she basically inherited her students that way—or they could indicate that teachers either perform or become better when working with a class of higher-achieving students.

Finally, teachers who teach multiple subjects, like most elementary teachers, had observation scores that were less related to their students’ incoming achievement—unlike the scores for teachers who only teach a single subject (and therefore older grades). This difference could be because teachers’ observations in older grades are spread across multiple classrooms, or because teachers who spend more time with one group of students are better able to adjust to their needs.

So, would Steinberg and Garrett’s findings hold true elsewhere? After all, the MET study observation data relied on an unusually robust approach to teacher evaluation, using highly-trained off-site evaluators who rated videotapes of lessons. In contrast, districts more often rely on in-person observations, often by school principals and APs.

Unfortunately, the findings from more typical on-site evaluations by school administrators may look even worse, according to Whitehurst, Chingos, and Lindquist. These Brookings researchers tackled the observation issue a few years ago and found that outside observers produce more valid observations than school administrators—so Steinberg and Garrett’s work could actually understate the problem.

Read more about observations in our previous month’s Teacher Trendline

 

Academic vs. non-academic outcomes: a troubling trade-off

04/28/2016

Earlier this year, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) launched “nonacademic factors” into the national discussion, as such factors can now be used as part of school accountability metrics. As states explore which factors to use, they may want to consider a recent working paper that finds that teachers who are rock stars at raising student test scores may not be the same ones whose students are either well-behaved or even particularly happy.

Using a large sample of upper elementary classrooms across four districts, David Blazar of Harvard University and Matthew A. Kraft of Brown University examine teacher influence on math test scores and students’ self-reported behavior, self-efficacy, and happiness in math class. Their work revealed not only that teachers do indeed have a significant effect on non-tested outcomes, but also that the teachers who are most effective at improving test scores are not necessarily the same teachers who are most effective at improving non-tested outcomes—echoing the findings of another recent study.

Although Blazar and Kraft don’t take a stand on incorporating measures of non-tested outcomes into teacher evaluations, their findings highlight the potential difficulty of doing so. In the sample, more than a quarter of the most effective teachers (based on test scores) were among the least effective when evaluated using student non-tested outcomes.

To further complicate matters, the non-academic outcomes don’t always correlate. For example, teacher scores on classroom organization had a positive correlation with student behavior but a negative correlation with happiness in class.

These contradictory findings are problematic since many of these factors influence long-term outcomes. Could it be that teachers improve one important student outcome at the expense of another? Or does this study highlight the complexity of the student experience and the challenges of measuring it with a survey?

Clearly, this study raises more questions than it answers. 

 

Charterizing Teacher Prep?

04/28/2016

Of late, there’s been a lot of chatter among teacher educators objecting to language in ESSA for “teacher preparation academies,” relatively regulation-free routes into teaching. From the perspective of much-maligned traditional teacher prep providers, it’s the feds once again showing an unfair preference for alternative providers. The action stings all the more because they see academies as an unproven model, an objection with some merit in our eyes.

So what gives?

In return for escaping from most regulatory requirements (such as the coursework that must be taught), teacher prep academies would be held accountable for “the performance of their graduates,” which has yet to be defined. In effect, this trade-off is similar to the deals offered to K-12 charter schools—hence teacher educators’ christening of academies as “charterized” teacher prep.

We have two questions: is this trade-off realistic (i.e., practical), and is it fair?

Thinking of lessons to be learned from the early days of the charter movement, there was a time, long before No Child Left Behind, when schools offered up student performance results based on their own definitions of accountability. The data weren’t always pretty and, in fact, were sometimes nearly meaningless. It was only after data were standardized and disaggregated that any degree of accountability was achieved and useful insights began to emerge about promising models for school reform.

Data available on K-12 schools are light years ahead of data on ed schools. In a recent report, Chaos to Coherence, Deans for Impact (a group of reform-minded ed school deans) examined seven different data categories—things like completer surveys, employer surveys, classroom observations, student achievement, and teacher evaluation of graduates—and documented the disappointing degree to which even the most progressive programs capture such data. 

So the rub is that ESSA essentially allows states to hold academies accountable in the midst of a virtual data desert. Fewer than half of states have yet to define a "teacher of record" or require verification of class rosters—both fundamentals to hold academies accountable for the performance of their graduates.

Further, long overdue regs on federal requirements for state data systems aren’t imminent: nearly four years into a rulemaking process that would help to close the black hole of accountability for teacher prep programs, there is no clear timeline for finalizing them.

To answer our second question, proponents of these new academies claim that with the right incentives and rewards, providers will be highly motivated to fill the current data vacuum. But the current academies don’t strike us as poster children for transparency. For example, all that’s publicly available from Relay—perhaps the granddaddy of the academy movement—is summary data on self-selected metrics. While Relay can be applauded for posting this data, it is inadequate as a model for what should be collected and made available as a condition for breaking free of state regulation.

Teacher preparation academies present a shiny new reason for collecting objective teacher performance data. It’s ironic then that the field of teacher education has consistently put up notorious resistance to such data, given that it could be the ticket for releasing them from the very regulations they find so burdensome. 

 

Part 2: Follow-up Q & A with special guest Doug Lemov

04/13/2016

Editor’s Note: We spoke with Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like A Champion (now in its revised 2.0 version), Reading Reconsidered and Practice Perfect to discuss the challenges facing teachers today and how certain habits can lead to some being less effective than others. Below is a slightly adapted version of our conversation. (Follow Doug on Twitter @Doug_Lemov).

Q) In your experience, what are some of the core things teachers need to accomplish to be effective in the classroom?

Teachers need several different things to succeed. First, as Erin pointed out, they need to have a strong, positive classroom culture, one that not only prevents negative behaviors but fosters an enjoyment of school and encourages students to do things that are productive and supportive of learning. Also, teachers need to reward kids for their attentiveness with engaging content and rigorous lessons. Those things are really critical, though they are easier to describe than they are to do.

I would say it’s also important for teachers to ask themselves, “Who’s doing the work in my lessons, me or my students?” One of the fastest ways to make sure it’s the kids doing the work and not the teacher is to increase the amount of in-class writing they do. When you ask a question and take a hand, one student elaborates on the answer but when you ask the class to write their response, every student answers and has to put it in writing, which is cognitively demanding.

The fourth thing is checking for understanding, distinguishing the “I taught it” from the “They learned it” to know whether mastery of the content has truly taken place.

Q) Would you agree with Erin on the importance of frequent, low-stakes testing?

There’s a lot of research coming to the fore on the positive effects of this type of testing, which is a way of asking students to constantly recall the information that they have learned in a variety of settings. So, yes, I think it makes sense. In addition “Cold call,” a technique I discuss in my book, is in some ways a form of low-stakes assessment. It’s when a teacher poses a question to the entire class, but immediately calls out a specific student for the answer. This creates a constructive tension where students know at any point they may have to recall and re-engage previously learned content at any point in the lesson. Students then know they have to stay in the game. When the mind has to work to recall things frequently learning increases.

Q) Why is it that some teachers struggle to be effective?

Well, first of all teaching is incredibly difficult work. I mean of course people struggle at it. But we do want people to nail the manageable aspects of the craft so they can move on to mastering the more challenging ones. A good example of a manageable challenge that teachers struggle with is failing to build a positive culture in the classroom. And when teachers are struggling to do so, they know it. It’s very possible that you could struggle to be sufficiently rigorous and not really know or feel it every day, but if you are struggling with culture and don’t have a classroom where kids do what you ask them to, it’s uncomfortable and you know you’re not doing right by kids. It’s unfortunately a very common experience.

It’s challenging to get 30 people in a room to do the most productive thing. When you add to that that we’re talking about 30 young people whose motivations may vary and who may have varying levels of interest in the endeavor you are asking them to work on, it’s a very, very challenging thing to do.

Q) What about rigor, which you mentioned is something teachers may not even realize they’re struggling with?

Right. As I mentioned earlier, if I’m a teacher, one question I’d ask myself is “Are kids writing every day in my class?” The other question I’d ask is “Are my kids doing reading and generating knowledge from text every day?” We know that students can learn from talking to their peers, what’s more challenging when they reach college, and what so many eventually struggle with, is having to do a lot of learning on their own strictly from text. 

Q) How can teachers struggling with rigor get their students to write more in class?

It usually boils down to doing more lesson planning. Teachers shouldn’t be doing too much of the cognitive work by answering questions for the students. So planning well and ensuring questions are demanding and rigorous, and also that there is time for students to write and revise their writing is crucial to upping the rigor.

Arguably my favorite technique in Teach Like a Champion 2.0 is called “Art of the Sentence.” Ask kids to distil or respond to a complex idea in only a single sentence. There’s power in scarcity of writing. If you can only write a single sentence, you have to use syntax in a way that really captures nuance. It disciplines your thinking and grows your range as a writer. My second favorite technique in the book is one called “Show Call.” I take a student's work and put it up on the projector. Then we start a class discussion of how to make it better, more precise, and focused. And then I have the whole class revise their own sentences accordingly.

Q) What do you wish teacher prep programs would take away from your research on high performing teachers?

I guess I wish that teacher preparation dealt with realities a bit more than it did theories. It’s really important how you ask your questions in the classroom, what prompts you use to get kids to do something and when you ask them to revise their work whether you can get everyone to follow your instructions. These things are so important. We should honor and respect the craft of teaching enough to study it deeply.

The solutions to the challenges and difficulties so many teachers face lie in the classrooms of high-performing teachers. We should be studying these teachers for the solutions to teaching challenges. First, because they’re the ones who have found the highest-value solutions to the problems, and second, because doing so honors the profession.

In the long run, if we’re going to draw the best people to the profession, actual teachers have to participate in generating the knowledge base of the field. It can’t always be people from outside the field. We have to make the study of the best among us intentional and honor those teachers by learning from their work.

 

Part 1: Five Habits that lead to ineffective teaching—and how to fix them

04/13/2016

Editor’s Note:  I heard Erin Burns speak at an Opportunity Culture conference about her decision to return to the same struggling high school where she started her teaching career. She ended up turning around a whole team of veteran teachers by helping them to form more effective teaching habits. I asked Erin to share the recipe to her secret sauce. —Kate Walsh

My first teaching job was as a high school biology teacher in an urban, Title 1, North Carolina school serving mostly low income, minority students. I arrived at age 22 with an inextinguishable passion for the power of education to achieve social justice, excited in particular about hands-on biology lessons. However, my pineapple eating Jello enzyme demo and edible candy DNA activities were quickly shunned by my colleagues for being too cutesy and I was instructed to drill students with multiple choice worksheets instead. I left after just one year to teach at a neighboring school that embraced my more hands-on approach. There, those same “cutesy” activities led to some of the highest student growth scores in the entire school.

Five years later, with data to back up my teaching style and some leadership experience under my belt, I ventured back to that same high school—still as underperforming as ever—where my career began. This time I was to lead the school’s biology team.

By taking concrete, actionable steps, we’ve achieved a big turnaround in short order. Each teacher on my team has moved from negative student growth to meeting growth standards.

I’ve learned a lot about the habits which can stand in the way of a teacher’s success. 

Here are my top five:

1) Rigid (boring) lesson structures

Many low performing schools fear any activity that doesn't have a rigid structure. Rigidity does not always equal rigor. For example, my teachers did a lesson in which we modeled DNA & Protein Synthesis by decoding a "DNA recipe" and creating, of all things, Rice Krispie treats. Students were up around the room transcribing mRNA to gather ingredients and make their "protein" (Rice Krispie treat). Though there were slight moments of chaos because students were so excited, every student was engaged. Students would frequently reference these types of engaging lessons and activities at the end of the year, as they had made a memorable impact. Worksheets and multiple choice drills, although they may look more controlled from an outside perspective, were not frequently referenced as having a significant impact on the students’ deep understanding of the material.

2) Not being organized.

Disorganization can lead to hours of valuable time lost, duplicating the workload for teachers. Teachers in my school used to spend hours searching for last year's flash drive, worksheet or lesson. Teachers are not always taught how to create a systematic way to organize lessons and materials.

I created a central repository (with the use of Google shared drives) for everyone to combine resources. We created a standardized lesson plan template built into a PowerPoint. Teachers could simply pull up the PowerPoint with directions for the activities, notes, etc. all at their fingertips. Now,  my teachers know exactly where the aligned lessons are located and can focus on tweaking the lesson as opposed to repeatedly, frantically creating something from scratch.

Furthermore, teachers bought into this system because they had created the original shared lesson plan; as opposed to using a purchased, packaged curriculum.

3) Reactive, rather than proactive, classroom management

At my school, too many teachers previously let one disruptive student ruin the entire class period for the other 29 students eager to learn. For example, a student might have put on headphones and disruptively started singing along. This would then be typically followed by a loud five-minute spectacle between student and teacher ultimately ending with the student being removed from class. Inevitably these confrontations have ripple effects, resulting in multiple students being kicked out, wandering the hallways and missing out on even more instruction.

Instead, I encouraged teachers to take preventive measures. Before these incidents multiply, identify the few students in need of special emotional support and behavior correction (conferences, calls home or utilization of administrators). Proactively build positive relationships with those students who are behaving well.

Simply walking around the room and talking to students as individuals has an incredible impact on classroom culture. “How did you do at the game last night?” “Did you get that new job you applied for?” I would frequently model this strategy for my teachers. This can take as few as 30 seconds, but it has big payoffs.

4) Administering tests and quizzes too infrequently

It may be unpopular in this anti-testing environment to suggest more testing, not less; but it works. My team of teachers transitioned from one large test every few weeks (that wasn't revisited until the final exam), to numerous mini tests and quizzes.

Now, with more frequent assessment,  students have multiple attempts to show mastery of a concept. Students have hope after failing a test as opposed to just giving up and having to accept the F. We've built in opportunities for students to retest and replace poor quiz grades on large interim assessments. They always have the opportunity to work towards a higher grade and grow their knowledge of the topics covered as the semester progresses.

This change meant helping my colleagues make a shift in mindset as well as building a strongly planned assessment calendar.  It’s been worth it.

5) Infeasible goals for improvement

In the same way that we built in an assessment calendar for our kids, those of us who lead teachers need to have a growth mindset for adults, reevaluating where an individual teacher is each week, quarter and semester. We are told never to label students as failures—why should we do so with teachers?

When I first started working with my team, many of my teachers simply needed a shift in outlook because they were constantly told that their students’ poor test scores were all their fault. I started by acknowledging their frustrations.  Oftentimes, this simply looks like a brief venting or therapy session. Yes, it can be draining for a school leader, but it is necessary to let teachers get it off their shoulders. Let their voice be heard so they can move on.

I pushed my team to grow their students as individuals. Our goal was beyond hitting a specified proficiency number, but to simply make sure our students left our classes knowing more biology than when they entered. The proficiency numbers would increase eventually if we just focused on growing students one by one.

Allowing teachers to focus on growth instead of a seemingly impossible, looming proficiency goal allows them to stop acting out in frustration to student behavior and lack of engagement and starting focusing on their individual student growth goals. When leaders create a culture of focusing on the positive, it trickles down to teacher-student interactions.

Creating a teacher turnaround plan without observing or talking to your teachers will flop. Stop boring lessons. Stop wasting time by looking for ways to work more efficiently and collaboratively. Stop modeling or allowing negative student-teacher relationships. Stop giving students only one chance to demonstrate mastery. And stop only focusing on your failing test scores. Start creating individual turnaround plans for each of your teachers with students at the center.

About the Author

Erin Burns is in her 7th year of education. She was a North Carolina Teaching Fellow, received her Bachelors in Biology with minors in Education and Entrepreneurship from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her Master of Education Leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University. She is currently in her second year as part of Project Lift Turnaround (a component of the OPportunity Culture), serving as a Multi Classroom Leader in her school. 

 

Check this out:

03/24/2016

Shout out to the graphics team at Goshen College for coming up with one of the best interactive charts we've seen in some time. Scroll down on this page to "Career Pathways" to see the graphic that has us all talking. It tracks all their alumni since 1980 by major to their eventual career field. This is exactly the kind of emphasis on data that more of higher ed, particularly teacher prep programs, ought to have.


 

Getting Licensed to Teach in Minnesota: A Puzzling Process

03/24/2016

A year ago a group of 20 out-of-state teachers filed a lawsuit in Minnesota over the state’s teacher licensing regulations which they claimed were inconsistent and incoherent. The state’s Office of the Legislative Auditor recently released its opinion, falling clearly in the teachers’ camp, declaring the licensing laws “complex, unclear and confusing.”

While nearly every state in the nation has much to clean up in how it is decided who gets to teach, Minnesota’s approach is unique. Both the state’s board of teaching and its department of education have authority to make decisions about and issue teacher licenses. Surprisingly—said no one familiar with teacher licensure ever—this bifurcated system causes confusion and makes it nearly impossible for many qualified, out-of-state teachers to obtain a Minnesota license.

Chief among the auditor’s recommendations? Give one agency, either the board of teaching or the department of education, the power to oversee all aspects of teacher preparation and licensing. If we had a say, we’d vote for putting authority in the hands of whichever agency is most likely to view licensure through the lens of K-12’s increasing demands. Minnesota’s licensure problems reflect the constant disconnect between what higher ed and K-12 say they need from new teachers. From our perspective, it’s time for K-12 to stop being a passenger and start driving the bus.

Regardless, Minnesota clearly needs a system where all parties involved speak the same language, both figuratively and literally. The two agencies apparently even had different terminology to describe the exact same licenses. One final note: while Minnesota stands out for its “broken” system, we would wager that a look under the hood of the licensure processes in all 50 states would unearth a long list of inconsistencies and examples of poor collaboration among the agencies involved.

 

Save more money, fire fewer people and boost student achievement? How one district weathered the Great Recession.

03/24/2016

No one’s happy about laying off teachers during an economic downturn, but some approaches to deciding who to lay off may yield better results than others. Breaking away from the many districts that still rely on “last in, first out” (LIFO) policies that shed the newest teachers regardless of their effectiveness, one district tried giving principals total say over which teachers were to be let go.

new paper from Matthew Kraft at Brown University found that when Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools gave principals this discretion the results were better for students and likely led to greater cost savings and fewer layoffs as well.

Since collective bargaining is against the law in North Carolina, the school district could establish reduction in force (RIF) policies unilaterally. The district gave principals five broad criteria for selecting teachers for involuntary reductions: 1) eliminating duplicative or excess personnel and positions; 2) planning for future enrollment projections; 3) job performance considerations; 4) job qualifications—including tenure status, education and licensure type and status and 5) seniority.

It seems that principals used their power wisely. They identified teachers who were generally less effective than average, based on both principal evaluations and value-added calculations (the latter was true even though principals never saw their teachers’ value added scores—they were calculated by Kraft during the study). In fact, teachers who were evaluated as one standard deviation lower by a principal had a four percentage point increase in the probability of being laid off.

Teachers weren’t selected for layoffs purely based on their evaluation scores, though. Teachers facing layoffs usually fell into one of the following categories: non-tenured, returning-retired (meaning they had retired, were rehired and were drawing both a salary and a pension), teachers hired after the start of the school year, those with a licensure deficiency or low-performing teachers.

                                       

Teacher effectiveness aside, Kraft also suggests that this dismissal policy stacks up favorably in terms of cost and number of layoffs as well. For example, he estimated that the policy in Charlotte cut the budget by more than $30 million with 645 layoffs, whereas a standard LIFO policy would cut the budget by $25 million with 781 layoffs.

Contrary to many people’s fears, a discretionary hiring policy didn’t lead to widespread dismissal of teachers with the greatest seniority (given that they garner the highest salaries), but rather it produced layoffs of a mixed group of individuals who tended to be lower-performing.

 

Teacher evaluations: shortsighted backpedalling or measured course correcting? A bit of both.

03/24/2016

With Congress having reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act earlier this year, there’s been a lot of celebration from some camps and hand wringing from others over the future of teacher evaluation. There is a perception that life under “ESSA” will mean that states will no longer embrace the commitments they only recently made to introduce more meaningful teacher evaluation systems.

True, a few states like New York have acted on the perception that they are now free from federal requirements, announcing significant changes (i.e. backpedaling). And it is certainly true that there were formerly some big federal carrots and sticks to persuade states to get serious about teacher evaluations, coming first with Race to the Top and then with the ESEA waivers. Especially through the waivers, the feds ‘encouraged’ some states to move farther and faster on teacher evaluation than they really wanted or were ready to do.

But it just isn’t my sense that, as New York goes, so too will most other states.

The numbers don’t make the case of a big shift in commitment. In our most recent scan in late 2015, just five states (CaliforniaIowaMontanaNebraska and Vermont) had no formal state policy requiring districts to factor objective measures of student achievement into their teacher evaluations. Another three states–AlabamaNew Hampshire and Texas–had adopted more rigorous evaluation policies clearly for one purpose—to obtain a federal waiver. It was not a secret that there were states doing nothing on teacher evaluation; Texas was far from quiet about it.

Yet the vast majority of states—the remaining 42 and DC—kept moving forward on teacher evaluation.

Of course, the change in landscape regarding teacher evaluations had a lot to do with political momentum. But I am of the glass-half-full opinion that this momentum had more to do with state readiness to repair a system everyone acknowledged was broken, and less to do with federal pressure. In our State of the States report from last fall, we mapped the timeline and found about a third of the states adopted new legislation and regulations in the interim between Race to the Top and the waivers when no one was asking or pressuring them to do anything.

To start fixing this broken system, states looked to incorporate better, more meaningful measures in teacher evaluations: objective evidence of student learning was one important feature of improved systems and better observation rubrics focused on effective instruction was another. Both are incredibly important.

What we're learning from early implementers is that, for many reasons, it is difficult to get real differentiation among observation scores. It is still too easy for principals to say every lesson they see is just fine. This makes the need for the objective evidence all the more important.

Regardless of how full or empty you see the glass when it comes to unpacking the motivation behind the flurry of state activity around teacher evaluations in recent years, it is almost impossible to separate the pushback against using tests in teacher evaluation from the larger anti-testing movement. The simultaneous implementation of new college- and career-readiness assessments and new teacher evaluation systems has been a significant challenge, one that has unfortunately amplified the pushback to each issue individually. In New York, for example, the teachers union worked hard—and seemingly succeeded—to conflate the two. But while much work remains on implementation, the policy landscape around teacher evaluation is completely transformed in this country, and that’s not going to be easy to undo.

I'm still cautiously optimistic. It is very hard to build trust in new systems until teachers experience it. In states like Tennessee with a few years under their belt teachers report increasing satisfaction with the system and, most importantly, that it is helping improve their practice and increase student achievement.

It is probably wise for people involved in this work to be wary that course correcting could be an early warning of an about face in direction. But as states and districts get deeper into the honest work of implementation, there are reasonable shifts that states may take in order to keep the momentum going, while at the same time building trust and buy-in for evaluations. After all, most everyone agrees that the traditional systems—characterized by a lack of frequency and objective measures including student growth—did no favors for teachers or students. Where state policymakers suggest reverting back to those systems this can only be viewed as a short-sighted reaction that has the potential to compromise the broader vision to build an evaluation system with a lot of promise to deliver positive results.

A version of this editorial first appeared as a back-and-forth between the author and Kate Pennington on Bellwether’s blog “Above the Heard.”

 

Déjà vu all over again in Chicago

03/09/2016

For all intents and purposes, Chicago Public Schools appears to be out of money—having recently borrowed $725 million just to keep the doors open. The district’s financial struggles set the backdrop for what has proven to be a contentious negotiation for a new contract with the teachers union. This negotiation has caught our attention because the primary sticking point seems to be less about traditional areas of disagreement and more about plain old bad faith. Trust between the district and the teachers union appears to be at an all-time low (see here and here) after the union unanimously rejected an offer from the district that it had touted as “serious.” 

Failure to reach a deal has resulted in mid-year budget cuts and teachers being forced to take three days off with no pay. In February, the district gave notice that it might end its pick-up of most of teachers’ required contributions to their pension system; the union responded by saying it would go on strike April 1 if the district followed through. Just last week, the district announced it would not stop the pension pick-up—at least until the final phase of negotiations is complete. In response, the union has promised a “Day of Action” on April 1, perhaps easing the previous threat of a strike.

Chicago teachers already fare pretty well when it comes to salaries and benefits as compared to other large districts. Still, the district offered an 8.75 percent phased-in salary increase over the next three years, but in return wanted to end the practice of picking up seven percent of the contribution teachers are supposed to make to their retirement system.

The union’s response to the offer, however, does not appear to point to teacher compensation issues as a sticking point. We can’t find any specific demand or counteroffer that lays out what the union wants instead. Perhaps those demands are being made behind closed doors, but it seems more likely that the union just flat out doesn’t trust the district to keep any of its promises, financial or otherwise. 

The union seems to get that the district is not playing chicken about its financial state. Consider that the Chicago Teachers Union came to the table with some demands that are not commonly seen in the typical collective bargaining negotiation. Alongside ordinary bargaining issues like class size and preparation time, the union’s stated priorities included unusual demands like placing a freeze on charter school expansion and the district engaging in legal action against banks that it says contributed to the district’s poor financial state.

As atypical as they are, the district actually responded to these demands in its last public offer. Along with dropping the pension pickup, giving raises and changing evaluations, the district has also offered to draft and find a sponsor for a tax bill, work on legislation to alter the Illinois Charter School Commission and identify and support a progressive state tax. A district offering to get involved in the political process as part of teacher contract negotiations? That’s a new one for us.

There’s little doubt that the teachers union has plenty of reason to be dubious of the district’s financial promises, but it isn’t easy to see how a negotiation where the most recent proposal was rejected more out of lack of trust than substantive differences can be resolved. What can the district offer that meets the union’s criterion of stabilizing district finances? How on earth do you negotiate trust? Someone is going to have to find an answer to these questions or no one is going to walk away a winner, especially not the kids in Chicago’s schools. 

For some great data comparing Chicago to other districts in Illinois and large districts across the country on the typical issues that usually drive teacher contract negotiations, see our most recent Teacher Trendline.

 

A bleak look at teacher prep in Tennessee

03/09/2016

New data shines a spotlight on what’s happening in the black box of teacher prep – but what it reveals is just plain depressing.

A non-profit organization which describes itself as an education-focused version of Consumer Reports, the Educators Consumers Foundation is out with an interesting small study looking at the outcomes of graduates from Tennessee’s teacher prep programs. While a few programs perform well, most programs in the state routinely graduate substantially more ineffective teachers than effective ones.

Let’s sit with that for a moment: most of Tennessee’s teacher prep programs are producing more teachers who fall in the bottom quintile of performance than those in the top quintile. 

There are some caveats, but none which justify dismissing the grim findings.

First, one might assert that it's unfair to expect new teachers to be effective. The data compares teachers’ performance over their first three years of teaching with the performance of all teachers in the state, so perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect a program to produce effective new teachers relative to the broader population of teachers. In any case, if it were so unrealistic, how come some programs consistently produce relatively new teachers who perform just fine against more experienced peers?  Here’s looking at you, Lipscomb University—which NCTQ also identified as having a top-ranked undergraduate secondary prep program in the country in 2014. 

Also worth pointing out is that many of the findings aren’t statistically significant. For example, the state’s 2015 report card offers data on Lipscomb’s teacher performance in 11 different grade/subject bands – but only two are statistically significant.

Finally, and this problem continues to be a major sticking point for us as we try to evaluate programs on student achievement outcomes, the state continues to lump all graduates from an institution into the same pot, even though they have graduated from programs within that institution which we know are substantially different in terms of their selectivity, coursework, and the professors who teach the coursework (as we show here). In other words, there’s almost no similarity between graduate and undergraduate programs on the same campus. That’s why NCTQ is unable to include VAM data for Tennessee programs in ourTeacher Prep Review, tempting though it may be.

These three concerns aside, the findings paint a stark picture of programs that are not instilling minimal competency in their grads. 

 

Matchmaking matters when it comes to student teaching

02/16/2016

With the year’s most romantic holiday fresh in our memories, we turn to a different kind of matchmaking: matching student teachers with the right schools.

In a new CALDER study, Dan Goldhaber and colleagues continue to mine the student teaching experience as a largely unexplored area of research. This time, they learn that the demographics of the schools where teachers complete their student teaching have an impact on future teacher effectiveness in the classroom as well as whether they’ll stick with teaching.

Using a large sample of student teachers enrolled in six Washington state teacher preparation programs, Goldhaber et al. find that new teachers were more effective if they completed their student teaching at schools with similar demographics to the school where they were ultimately hired. This certainly makes sense. That means that if we want teachers who will be successful in more disadvantaged schools, we need to stop looking for “easy” placements and instead identify placements in schools serving more challenging populations.

These differences in student teaching experiences explained more of the variation in future teachers’ effectiveness than the prep program where the student teachers were enrolled.

There’s a bit of a Catch 22, however. A teacher is less likely to leave teaching if s/he did student teaching in a stable school with low teacher turnover rates--hardly the reality in many disadvantaged schools.

This suggests a sweet spot for where to place student teachers: yes, in high needs schools, but only those which are relatively high performing, and presumably stable--something most districts have in short supply.

 

Better evaluations, better teachers?

02/16/2016

As any district can attest, overhauling teacher evaluations represents a huge lift for all involved. The temptation to look for shortcuts is equally huge.  

In 2008, Chicago Public Schools decided to pilot a new teacher evaluation system. Researchers Matthew Steinberg and Lauren Sartain used this opportunity to answer the question “Can the process of evaluating the teachers in a school actually improve a school's performance?”  

For the first cohort of schools implementing the evaluation, principals received extensive training and support, with a focus on how to use the rubric and what to look for when observing teachers. Principals held both pre- and post-observation conversations with teachers. Not unlike what DC learned (see above), this group of schools with their well trained principals realized a statistically significant improvement in students’ reading scores compared to schools that did not implement the evaluation. 

But the results were not nearly so strong for the second cohort of schools. What changed? This time, Chicago provided only minimal training to principals. Teachers still got evaluated. They still got feedback. But this cohort of schools reported few learning gains--indeed faring no better than schools that did not implement the new evaluation system at all. 

It seems like a simple lesson to learn. A good evaluation system is only as good as the training and support provided to those asked to deliver it.  

 

Pay Attention Everybody. DC's on a roll. 

02/16/2016

For eight years, the DC public school system has sought to transform itself into a high performing school district, in spite of a poverty rate just shy of 80 percent.  Some of the strategies pursued along the way--notably a new evaluation system based in part on student scores and an enviable compensation scheme--received no shortage of press, with the result that the district continues to be haunted by remnants of controversy which make it easy for other districts to dismiss its progress.

Maybe it's time to give credit where credit is due. 

First, a new independent study should squash the common criticism that performance pay of the type DC adopted drives out not just weak teachers but good teachers as well, stressed out by a competitive work environment. A working paper from Melinda Adnot, Veronica Katz, and James Wyckoff of University of Virginia and Thomas Dee of Stanford University finds that DC’s performance pay system is clearly an overall net plus for teachers and students.

With its pay system now firmly entrenched, DCPS’s turnover rates for low-performing teachers are three times higher than for high performers. That finding dovetails nicely with earlier work by Dee and Wyckoff showing that stronger teachers aren’t more likely to leave because of stress.

Even better, the District's hard charging HR office is systematically replacing exiting teachers with substantially more effective teachers. The replacements are so categorically strong that even when high-performing teachers do leave, the net effect on student learning is slightly negative, but not statistically significant. 

                              

DC's head of human capital, Jason Kamras, explains why the replacement teachers aren't pulling down learning gains, as new teachers generally do. The district is in such a good position these days (with the second-highest lifetime earnings in the country) that it can avoid hiring many first-time teachers--including from Teach For America, on which it once substantially relied. Of the 800 teachers hired last year, Kamras relays, only a quarter of them were brand new and only 20 were TFA corps members.

Best news of all? Because the vast majority of DC’s exiting lower-performing teachers had been working in its toughest schools, their turnover has yielded the greatest gains in the schools where they're most needed.

There's more. DC released a human capital report last week--something we wouldn't normally call attention to as it's hardly an independent perspective. However, it explains in a level of detail that's actually useful why DC has made the greatest NAEP gains of any urban district over the last five years. The kinds of nuts and bolts changes described in this short report should make the agenda of school boards across the nation, but probably won't given districts' uncanny ability to dismiss what works elsewhere. The most telling insight into how DC functions? After it determined that a teacher hired in May is on average 20 percent more effective than one hired in August, it doubled down to now do what other big districts claim is not possible: hire all but a few of its teachers before June 30.

DC also announced this week that it is building from the ground up a new professional development system based on content, not general pedagogy--after learning that its current system wasn't actually helping develop anyone. New to its evaluation system will be student surveys (a move that's a relatively late adoption compared to other progressive districts) and the decision to end its third party evaluation of teachers--arguing that its principals now have what it takes to ensure the integrity of its evaluation system going forward.

What happens in DC has the potential to impact districts across the entire nation. 

 

Teacher prep struggles gain global attention—and NCTQ’s at the table

02/02/2016

A few weeks ago while my blizzard-frenzied hometown of Baltimore was busy emptying grocery shelves of bread and toilet paper, I took off for Paris—at the invitation of the OECD.  There's nothing I love more than a great big snow storm, but sacrifices must be made.  

The occasion was OECD's kickoff event for a new study to look at how the world prepares its teachers.  Just as the U.S. had recently begun paying attention to the critical role teacher preparation plays in teacher quality, so too has the international community.  (One of the first assignments I had when I arrived at NCTQ 13 years ago was to participate in an OECD study on teacher quality.  Exactly as the teacher quality debate has played out in the U.S., virtually ignoring teacher prep until recently, that study only identified the selection but not the preparation of teachers as a factor of interest.) 

                                    

My assigned role was to speak about US teacher preparation. It did occur to me that If the OECD had consulted with American higher education institutions or the AACTE about who would have been best to provide such a perspective, my name would not have been on their list. And I will concede that I did not paint a pretty picture, but it was a fair one backed up by the evidence.  

In fact, no country was there to boast, not even the largely Asian PISA powerhouses.  Finland’s delegate, for example, dismissed the notion that only the top 10 percent of their college grads are admitted into teaching, a myth he ascribed to the poorly understood fact that candidates are able to apply multiple times and most, he asserted, eventually make it in. Representatives from Hungary and Turkey expressed considerable dissatisfaction with what they felt were their country’s excessive focus on teachers’ content knowledge—and didn’t seem to notice me turning green with envy. Other nations, particularly Australia and Chile, expressed problems eerily similar to ours.

I was also interested to hear that teacher bashing, however it might be defined, appears to be a multi-national problem.  Only South Korea continues to report the high status of teaching as a chosen profession while the rest of us bemoaned the profession’s ability to attract the best and brightest.  The most universal complaint?  Without question, the deaf ear on the part of higher ed to the practical needs of novice teachers.

In any case, the purpose of such a meeting is to fully air the range of problems and organize them into manageable buckets, not come up with the solutions.  Actually, I'm not sure if a set of solutions should ever be an expectation at any stage.  The real challenge for any international effort is the discipline and persistence required to descend from the clouds, delivering comparative data at a level that is practical and concrete for the countries involved. As I cannot recall more than a handful of such studies over the last 20 years, that must be easier said than done.  Most depend on platitudes to fill their pages—not to mention a dizzying array of incomprehensible flow charts (why does anyone think that converting a narrative into a heavy mixture of text boxes and arrows somehow makes complex systems more comprehensible?).

Solutions reside within each nation, perhaps spurred by education ministries or groups such as ours (which appear to be increasingly prevalent, I was heartened to see).  We all benefit enormously from better international data—not unlike the way that PISA results have helped the broader education movement engage in better advocacy.  

Many times over the years NCTQ has reached out to education ministries and academics in other countries with what we believe to be basic questions—such as "How many schools of education do you have?" "What are the courses teacher candidates take?" "What does it take to get in?" or "What level of math proficiency does an elementary need to have?"—generally without success.  These are questions which are grounded in the nuts and bolts of practice and which, if answered, might explain a lot.  That’s how we learn and improve. Not with generalizations or by making assumptions about what works in other countries, but with facts and data to back them up.

 

Want to stand out? Raise the bar for who gets in

02/02/2016

Shouldn't we expect that teachers will initially perform differently in the classroom based on the quality of their preparation? After all, there are no fewer than 1,400 institutions of higher education in the U.S. (not to mention a burgeoning market of alternative routes) purporting to prepare teachers, setting the stage for huge variations in teacher training.

Maybe not, suggests new research from AIR's CALDER.  Authors Koedel, Parsons, Podgursky and Ehlert (you may remember this study from the attentionit received as a working paper back in 2012) report it is difficult to attribute swings in teacher effectiveness to the institutions which prepared teachers and that big variations exist among teachers who graduated from the same institution. Of differences noted among teachers from different institutions, only one to three percent of that variation was explained by which institution the teachers attended.

What might explain this breach in logic?  

It could be that institutions’ approaches to teacher preparation are more similar than their numbers suggest or common sense would presume.  NCTQ's analysis in the Teacher Prep Reviewbacks up this hypothesis, finding the vast majority of institutions (81 percent) in the United States can be classified as "weak" or "failing."  If an overwhelming number of programs are not providing what teachers need to be moderately successful when they walk into a classroom—essentially not adding value to their candidates' own preparation—then teachers will be only as effective as the raw attributes they bring to the table.  No wonder Koedel et al were unable to capture institutions which have a meaningful and consistent impact on their teacher candidates: too few of them do.

The authors provide some evidence for this hypothesis.  None of the 11 institutions in the sample demonstrated much selectivity in their teacher prep program admissions process, and notably less so than other programs of study on their campuses.  This practice of setting a very low floor for entry (widespread across the country) results in huge differences—at least in terms of academic ability— in the quality of teacher candidates attending the same program. Overall, selectivity did not appear to be as important in admission to teacher preparation programs as it was in other programs of study at these institutions. 

 

Learning About Learning should be an eye-opener for teacher candidates

02/02/2016

As an aspiring elementary teacher, my goal has been to obtain the best possible training to prepare myself for my future classroom. I put full faith in my university’s teacher preparation program and its professors to expose me to all of the various instructional strategies that I should know and be able to implement.  It was only after reading NCTQ's Learning About Learning: What Every New Teacher Needs to Know that I learned that textbooks used in teacher preparation programs generally lack information on the six instructional strategies identified by the U.S. Institute of Education Sciences (IES) as having the strongest evidence of being impactful on student learning.  In fact, the sample of textbooks NCTQ evaluated for the report includes some of the textbooks I've used!

Needless to say, this concerns me. In many classrooms, professors rely on textbooks and I've paid considerable amounts to buy them and have them available for assignments and reference. While the books can and should contain valuable information on other topics, these six instructional strategies should be front and center in the chapters on instruction if I am to understand these effective strategies and their importance.

Now that I've had these six strategies pointed out, I realize that I've seen some of them in action.  For example, the strategy of “distributing practice” helps retention because students are exposed to information more than once, with spacing between exposures. As a college student, I've experienced the difference between teachers who touch on a topic once versus teachers who reiterate information, increasing my depth of understanding and my ability to remember.  I want to learn how to best do the same for my students.

Important as NCTQ's efforts to raise this issue are, teacher candidates can also help to raise awareness. For example, sharing the report with deans is one possible step forward. We can also take the initiative to write reviews on textbook websites whenever it's clear that textbook content is not adequate—or when books fail to cite the same sort of specific articles we're required to cite to support our own research papers. If textbooks don't improve, we can support production of an open source textbook on evidence-based teaching practices, which would be both valuable and help reduce the heavy burden of purchasing expensive college textbooks.

With the facts in front of us, how can we not do our part to tackle this issue?

- Sarah Rahimi

Sarah is preparing to be an elementary teacher at Southern Methodist University (Dallas, Texas) and is a member of the NCTQ Teacher Candidate Advisory Group

 

Stopping lemmings with a single click

01/14/2016

We’ve all been there. A teacher asks a class to answer a simple question with a show of hands. You’re not sure of the answer—but lucky for you, the top student was first with her hand up—so there's not much to lose by following suit. The teacher, satisfied by the sea of hands all in agreement, moves on.

It turns out that relying on an age-old practice of a show of hands to check whether students understand what's being taught can be misleading—and can also discourage students from thinking too hard about the answer.

A new working paper from Levy, Yardley, and Zeckhauser of Harvard University showed the influence of “herding” on students when asked to answer a question. College students’ responses to simple questions varied depending on the technique used: hand raising or the use of device that allowed each student to answer a question in real-time without seeing others’ responses (often called a “clicker” because students click a button to respond).

For starters, students tended to give much different answers to opinion questions on a sensitive topic depending on whether other students in the class would know (and potentially disapprove) of their answer. 

More concerning, the researchers found that students gave different answers for factual questions with a right and wrong answer depending on the method of responding.

Specifically, more students got the question right when using hand raising, suggesting that some students follow the lead of the people they assume know the answer. The hand-raising method allows students who mimic others’ answers to avoid thinking much about the question and gives teachers a false belief that their students learned the material. When answering with clickers, responses were less likely to be correct—but researchers suspect they were more likely to reflect students’ actual understanding of a concept.

While the old ways are sometimes best, this research suggests that using such devices may be a smart way to bring new technology into the classroom—provided teachers recognize that they are not appropriate for addressing more complicated “why” and “how” questions.

For a closer look at what teacher candidates are learning about asking deep questions, see NCTQ’s latest report, Learning About Learning.

 

N-VAMs: Teaching an old analysis framework new tricks

01/14/2016

We know teachers are more than just the sum of their students’ test scores. That's why teacher evaluations don't just look to VAM scores but also include observations—a measure which isn't actually all that reliable but it's the devil-you-know syndrome at work.

Districts struggle with the desire to capture the many positive influences teachers have on their students apart from learning, influences which are much harder to quantify—such as students' enthusiasm for coming to school each day, their willingness to behave in some teachers' classrooms but not others, or their motivation to work hard in a course.

Though it's early days yet, a newly-developed method may offer some solutions. This method, called N-VAM (the “N” stands for “non-tested”), is based on the same analysis framework as the more traditional test-based value-added modeling (VAM). While not the first to experiment with N-VAM, researchers Ben Backes and Michael Hansen of the American Institutes for Research tried it out in a recent study of TFA teachers’ impacts on non-tested outcomes for students in the Miami-Dade County School District. The non-tested outcomes included the number of students' absences, GPA and the number of courses failed.

Notably, the N-VAM data proved to correlate little with VAM scores, showing that a teacher’s effectiveness on academic outcomes did not always correspond with her effectiveness for non-tested measures. This gives credence to the argument that measuring a teacher’s effectiveness using test scores may overlook other key ways that teachers benefit their students, a finding that other studies support.

In any case, while this new methodology may not be ready for prime time, Backes and Hansen believe the results are suggestive and merit future research into this analysis framework. They express some concerns over the statistical validity of the results (identifying some areas in which the forecast bias was too great, meaning that the actual results and predicted results were too different for them to have confidence in their model). They also decline to make claims that the teachers caused their students’ non-tested outcomes in this study.

Perhaps the N-VAM will turn out to be no more than a single shot across the bow, but the idea has so much merit, we're eager to see more. 

 

What teacher candidates won't find in their textbooks

01/14/2016

Over the holidays, I ran into an old colleague from back when I was doing a lot of work in Baltimore during the 1990s. The conversation turned to NCTQ's work in teacher preparation. Perhaps half kidding, he accused me of being a turncoat, referring to my newfound commitment to traditional teacher preparation. "Whatever happened to you?" he launched in. "You used to know that teacher prep was a total waste of time. Now you're such a booster!"

"Twenty-five years ago, that position may have made some sense," I retorted. "It's just not a defensible position any longer."

What this guy didn’t realize—nor perhaps do a lot of people—is that over the last couple of decades there's been a boon in all sorts of knowledge, much of it highly relevant to teaching. Unfortunately, little of this knowledge has been integrated into teacher preparation. If it were, we might see a big reduction in the all-too-steep learning curve experienced by most novice teachers.

For starters, there’s the rock-solid science on how to teach reading, which didn't just end with the National Reading Panel in 2000, but has continued to grow, particularly including the roles of oral language and building broad content knowledge. There have also been advancements in basic principles of instruction and managing human (e.g. classroom) behavior.  

In a report NCTQ released yesterday, we again find little evidence of these advancements making their way into mainstream teacher education, specifically by means of the textbooks programs require for coursework. This time, the field of study is human learning, our collective knowledge of which, resting on a foundation laid over a century ago, has gone into warp speed over the last few decades. And, we would contend, there is no other subject that could benefit struggling new teachers more.

To determine the presence of this beneficial knowledge in teacher prep programs, we analyzed the textbooks required in courses purporting to teach how children learn (generally ed psych and methods courses), assessing if any home in on the research-proven  strategies that teachers can use to help children learn as well as retain what they learn. Those very practical strategies, some of which are supported by research going back decades, were neatly packaged and tied with a bow for an audience of educators in 2007 by the Institute for Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

In an exhaustive analysis, our experts were not able to identify a single textbook in our representative sample of 48 textbooks which would be suitable for teaching this essential group of strategies. The majority of texts adequately cover only a single strategy. None in the sample covers more than two.

We wondered then if perhaps programs worked around the deficiencies found in textbooks, supplementing them with other resources. Looking for references to supplemental readings (hoping one might be the IES guide itself), lecture topics and student assignments, we found nothing. Further, since publishers generally only publish texts which are likely to meet consumer demand, it seems unlikely that teacher educators are clamoring for content they’re not getting. And the fact that the newly formed Deans for Impact made the "science of learning" its opening salvo also suggests that this material has yet to be embraced by mainstream teacher ed.

One explanation for the absence of these strategies from textbooks and coursework is that the field of teacher education is more likely to ignore research, not just because it sometimes comes from other fields, but because it counters the prevailing views of teacher educators. That hypothesis might explain why one of the six strategies (the one which also happens to be backed up by the most science) receives such short shrift. That would be the “testing” strategy which advises frequent quizzing to help students remember what they learn. Testing is a dirty word these days. But it doesn’t explain the indifference on the part of teacher education to the other strategies, such as teaching about the importance of teachers distributing review or practice of new material across weeks to promote retention of new material.

Another hypothesis might point to teacher education’s unwillingness to put down its collective foot once and for all, rejecting much of the current “research” which would more aptly be termed thought-pieces, non generalizable case studies or small-sample investigation. That kind of culling, by our estimation, would reduce the average ed psych textbook's 2,200 references by about 90 percent—with most of the reduction due to the common practice in these textbooks of citing a whole book as the supporting evidence for this or that practice without even identifying the page number (imagine a medical textbook accepting as adequate support a citation such as “Your Spine and You, 2000, Chicago: Doubleday”).

The market for substandard textbooks has got to dry up. There is simply no defense for using textbooks so untethered from the emerging research about what works in practice. We look forward to working with publishers and prep programs to ensure these books are pulled from the shelves.

See NCTQ’s latest report, Learning About Learning, for a closer look at the research-proven instructional strategies teacher textbooks leave out.

 

#1—Most Earth-Shattering Finding Still Likely to Get Ignored

12/30/2015

Public School Teacher Attrition and Mobility in the First Five Years: Results From the First Through Fifth Waves of the 2007–08 Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study from NCES

To round out our research recap, everything you know about teacher turnover is wrong. For years, we’ve heard that half of all new teachers leave teaching in the first five years. Principals and HR directors despaired—all those great new teachers they hired will be gone just as they’re hitting their stride. Turns out the real number is way less than half of that—about 17 percent in the first four years (and we’d bet money there’s not a big exodus of teachers in the fifth). Like your data disaggregated?

Get detailed findings here: TQB

 

2—Most Informative Research Every Superintendent Should Be Reading

12/30/2015

A Foot in the Door: Exploring the Role of Student Teaching Assignments in Teachers’ Initial Job Placements by Krieg, Theobald, & Goldhaber

Every district wants to get a leg up on hiring the best new teachers. Want a tip? Get your pick of the teachers by starting before they even finish training. While teachers are likely to get their first job near home, they’re even more likely to get their first job near their student teaching placement—and 15 percent get their first job in the same building as where they student taught.

Left wanting more? Find it here: TQB

 

#3—Most Likely to Put a Spring in Older Teachers’ Step

12/30/2015

Productivity Returns to Experience in the Teacher Labor Market: Methodological Challenges and New Evidence on Long-Term Career Improvement by Papay & Kraft

Back in the day, we thought that teachers stopped improving after their first few years in the classroom. Turns out, a few gray hairs don’t signal the end for professional improvement. This myth may have been more a reflection of imperfect statistical models, rather than a product of any reality about teachers. Even after more than a decade, more experience can mean better teaching.

Can’t get enough statistics? Read more here:  TQB

 

#4—Most Depressing Findings We Wish Weren’t True

12/30/2015

Uneven Playing Field? Assessing the Teacher Quality Gap Between Advantaged and Disadvantaged Students by Goldhaber, Lavery, & Theobald

Looking for a bright spot? This isn’t it. New research confirms that disadvantaged students (whether defined as being part of an underrepresented minority, free and reduced lunch status, or last year’s test scores), tend to get lower-quality teachers (whether defined by experience, licensure test score, or value added measure). No witty remark here. We’re too depressed.

Feel like you could use a tiny glimmer of hope? See this: TQB

 

#5—Best paper to slip to your district’s finance office:

12/30/2015

The Mirage by TNTP

Just make sure you leave before they read the headline findings. TNTP estimates that, on average, districts spend a whopping $18,000 on professional development per teacher per year (cue coffee spit-take). One would think all that spending would provide some decent returns. Not so—few teachers showed improvement, and no clear connections emerged between professional development and teachers’ improvement. When planning next year’s budget, districts may want to think about whether all this cost is going to result in much benefit.

Want our take? Find it here: TQB

 

A silver lining in a cloudy study

12/10/2015

As eternal optimists, we’re choosing to look on the bright side of a disheartening new study.

Researchers Jennifer Steele, Matthew Pepper, Matthew Springer and J.R. Lockwoodprovide additional evidence of educational inequities, finding that teachers with lower value added measurements (VAM) are more likely to teach at schools populated by mostly minority students—the same schools that also house a higher rate of more novice teachers and teachers with lower college GPAs.

This graph depicts how the distribution of teachers dramatically changes as soon as one turns from a school with a mostly white population to one with a mostly minority population. The change is so sudden it's like a switch goes off.

                                              

However, the same study finds that once a teacher with a high VAM score starts teaching in a high-minority school, he or she is not more likely to leave—a trend inconsistent with the popular belief that once teachers prove themselves in urban or high-minority schools, they move on to suburban or lower-minority ones. 

Though the high-minority schools in the study reported relatively high teacher turnover rates, as is the case with most schools serving high numbers of minority students, the turnover is not due to an exodus of high-VAM teachers. The better teachers were no more likely to leave the school than other teachers. Some (non-statistically significant) numbers even suggested the opposite—higher VAM teachers were more likely to stick around in these high-minority schools once they got there. And even those high VAM teachers who did leave didn't go teach in lower-minority schools any more or less frequently than other teachers (though the researchers lost track of any teacher who left the district—which is whybroader administrative data sets are very helpful in examining these questions).

Of course, these data come from a single unnamed school district, so it remains to be seen if these results are replicable. Count us excited, however, if this study is replicated and confirms that once we get highly-effective teachers into high-minority schools they are likely to stay.

 

State Teacher Policy at a Tipping Point: NCTQ releases 9th Annual Yearbook

12/10/2015

Upon the release of our first comprehensive Yearbook that included state grades in 2009, the headline read: “Taken as a whole, state teacher policies are broken, outdated and inflexible.”

After six more annual encyclopedic reviews of just about every policy states have on their books that impact the teaching profession, the 2015 State Teacher Policy Yearbook reaches a decidedly more positive conclusion. In fact, we think 2015 may just be a tipping point year for teacher effectiveness policy in the United States.

Across the nation, the average state teacher policy grade for 2015 is now a C–. Thirteen states earned grades in the B- to B+ range. Not a single state earned higher than a C in 2009. 

While the C- average is a mark that is still far too low to ensure teacher effectiveness nationwide, it is a very real improvement over the D average earned by the states in 2009If an increase from a D to a C- doesn’t strike you as overly impressive, bear in mind that we continue to raise the bar on certain topics as we see states exceeding our original expectations.  This year, we scored for the first time states’ alignment of their teacher preparation policies with the instructional shifts required by college- and career-readiness standards, a policy area in considerable need of attention.

A tipping point is defined as the point at which an issue or idea crosses a certain threshold and gains momentum. In the 2015 Yearbook, we see the tide changing on elementary teacher licensing and prep program admission, with more than half of all states improving for teacher preparation requirements. In addition, 27 states now require annual evaluations for all teachers, 16 states include student achievement and growth as the preponderant criterion in teacher evaluations, and 19 others include growth measures as a significant factor.

This year, an all-time high of 23 states now require that tenure decisions are tied to teacher performance. Not a single state had such a requirement in 2009.  Importantly, 28 now articulate that ineffective teaching is grounds for teacher dismissal, something only 11 states permitted in 2009. 

The Yearbook documents good state teacher policy progress to be sure. But there’s no coasting to the finish line on the other side of this tipping point. On several critical fronts there are still only a precious few state leaders paving the way forward.

Secondary teacher licensing, for example, is simply out of sync with the adoption of college- and career-readiness standards. Just five states—Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota and Tennessee—require secondary teachers to demonstrate their knowledge of the subjects they will teach without any loopholes in the disciplines of general science or social studies.  Most states still turn a blind eye to the fact that just because someone knows some biology that doesn’t make them qualified to teach physics.

Special education remains a huge black mark for teacher policy, with 37 states still permitting special education teachers to teach any grade level K-12, something they would never dream of allowing for general education teachers. Just 14 states require elementary special education teachers to demonstrate that they have the subject-matter knowledge they'll need, and only Missouri, New York and Wisconsin require secondary level special education teachers to pass a test in each subject in which they are licensed to teach.

Teacher compensation reform also remains a stubbornly unchanging area of teacher policy. Only a handful of states have been willing to take on the issue of teacher pay: Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada and Utah all now tie compensation to teachers' evaluation results.

Reflecting on a decade of tracking teacher policy, there is real energy behind states moving down a reform path focused on teacher effectiveness. Many states have taken just small steps while others have enacted watershed reforms. But with a few stubborn exceptions, each year fewer and fewer states remain out of step on numerous Yearbook goals.  Given how far they’ve come, NCTQ thinks states are better positioned than ever to make meaningful reforms championing teacher effectiveness.

The national summary of the Yearbook and 51 state-specific versions can be found here. The Yearbook dashboard provides easy access to graphs, infographics and narratives for national and state-specific findings. 

 

Thoughts on the Good Behavior Game and Classroom Management

11/19/2015

I am one of NCTQ’s biggest supporters, but I am very disappointed with the recent publication of The Good Behavior Game as a means for improving classroom management.  This is not a criticism of the Good Behavior Game.  There is also a Classroom Protocol Game produced by the people at the Huberman Foundation.  There are also discipline programs—two popular ones are Restorative Justice and Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS).  And then there are behavior rubrics and contracts, and every advocate swears that they have research to back their game, program, rubric, and contract.

The Good Behavior Game has nothing to do with classroom management; it has to do with behavior management and the two are separate entities.  As long as we continue to subscribe to the notion that discipline is classroom management, we will never attain improved student achievement, which is the goal of NCTQ.  The purpose of classroom management is to maximize student learning with a well-organized classroom, not to minimize student misbehavior.

Classroom management is the most misused term in education.  Classroom management has to do with managing or organizing a classroom for student learning.  Effective teachers MANAGE their classrooms, whereas ineffective teachers DISCIPLINE their classrooms.  So many teachers have the mistaken belief that classroom management has to do with discipline; thus, every day is a self-fulfilling prophecy of going into battle with the students, because that is the expectation.  Teachers who incorrectly define classroom management as discipline are likely to join the ranks of the thousands who quit the education profession after their first few years on the job.

Classroom management is not about discipline.  It is about organization and consistency.  Store managers manage a store; they do not discipline the customers.  Team managers manage a team; they do not discipline the players.  Likewise, effective teachers have a classroom management plan consisting of a series of practices and procedures that are used to organize an environment in which instruction and learning can take place.

Can you imagine asking a store manager what she does and she responds, “I was hired to discipline the customer,” or a stage manager says, “I was hired to discipline the actors.”  Yet, when you say classroom management to people in (and out of) education, they invariably equate this with discipline.

I do not deny that discipline is an issue that must be addressed, and if The Good Behavior Game helps, that is great; however, no learning takes place when a teacher disciplines.  Learning only takes place when a classroom is organized so the students know how to do things (procedures) correctly in the classroom.  The reason behavioral problems occur in the classroom is because there is no organized management plan in place so the students know what to do.

Regretfully, the great majority of teachers think that classroom management is synonymous with discipline, so they spend their days looking for games or programs to solve their behavior problems.  To tell me that a game helps classroom management is not classroom management.  My question is, “How do YOU manage a classroom, and can you teach someone else how to manage a classroom?”

The GBG cannot succeed on its own any more than a diet book can succeed on its own.  As Kate Walsh so wisely states, “The GBG serves to keep students focused on learning by promoting appropriate and on task behavior, but the game is more effective in an environment where the essential components of classroom management are already in place.”  So I ask again, "Where is your classroom management plan?"

Teaching classroom management has been our forte for well over 35 years, over the course of which thousands of teachers have told us, “Thank you for teaching me the difference between discipline and procedures.”  Procedures range from how to head a paper, how to begin class on time, and how to write an essay.  When students know how to run a classroom, you not only minimize misbehavior, you have a class that can function on its own, and can even run itself in the teacher’s absence.  Simply put, when you teach students how to do things, then they won’t do what you do not want them to do.

We teach teachers how to be proactive, not reactive.  A proactive teacher has a plan to prevent problems; a reactive teacher has no plan, and when a problem occurs, they react from one problem to another, looking for a game, an activity, or a threat.  To be effective and successful, all a teacher needs is a classroom management plan.

Effective teachers prevent problems with a plan that keeps their students focused and on task, from the moment the opening bell sounds, until the end of each day.  This is done with procedures, which simplify the tasks students must accomplish to increase learning and achieving.  Once taught, procedures become the responsibility of the students to carry out the appropriate tasks.  A well-managed classroom is safe, predictable, nurturing, and focus-driven.  A classroom management plan ensures learning takes place efficiently, with minimal stress.  When you have an organized classroom, you avoid the pitfalls of becoming a disciplinarian.

Students want a plan, too.  It is extremely important to realize that many students come from disorganized, unstructured home environments, where chaos abounds.  Neglected children crave structure and guidance.  Give them a well-managed, organized classroom with clear daily practices and procedures, and they will respond positively.

Chelonnda Seroyer, a high school English teacher in Atlanta, says, “My students enjoy having a predictable classroom.  They feel safe because they know what to expect each day.  They like consistency in a world that can be very inconsistent.”

Amanda Brooks is a teacher in Dyersburg, Tennessee.  Upon completing her first year of teaching, she said, “With procedures that organized my class, I never had to waste time repeating what they should be doing or reprimanding them for bad behavior.  I created an environment where students could just learn.  I simply taught and enjoyed my students.”

At the end of her second year of teaching, Amanda said, “My state test scores just came back and my class had the highest test scores in my school, and I am only saying this to encourage new teachers to get it right on the first day of school and then enjoy the rest of the school year.”

A veteran teacher of 40 years, Audrey Lowery of Irvington, Virginia, says, “If our new teachers would implement classroom procedures and keep them separate from rules, they would be in education for the long haul.”

I trust that those who read about The Good Behavior Game will not misconstrue it as a panacea for classroom management, because the mission of NCTQ is to promote teacher quality and quality teachers, such as Chelonnda Seroyer, Amanda Brooks, and Audrey Lowery know the difference between classroom management and behavior management.

*Dr. Wong is the author  of several popular books used in teacher education.

 

Doing something right in Dallas…

11/19/2015

Results are in for the first full year of implementation of a new teacher evaluation system in Dallas, a system that the district claims to be “the most rigorous teacher evaluation system in the nation.” Given the initial results, perhaps it is. 

Many districts undertake what appear to be strong eval systems only to, disappointingly, end up reporting little differentiation among teachers. Not so in Dallas.

Among the system’s seven possible teacher effectiveness ratings, about a third of the district’s 11,000 teachers were assigned to one of the three lowest. Around 40 percent received a middle-of-the-road rating. Only 22 percent received one of the highest three ratings.

Further, Dallas reported a fairly typical turnover rate for an urban district of 16 percent, suggesting that teachers weren’t all that fussed about the new system (which wasn't the case for Washington, DC's first year of implementation, though that could have been because of all the national attention). Those Dallas teachers who did choose to leave were likely the ones the district would have chosen to go anyways: over half rated “unsatisfactory” did not return and a quarter of teachers who performed just marginally better did not return. Conversely, only a small percentage of higher performing teachers chose to leave.

                                 

Why is the Dallas approach off to such a positive start?

We think the use of seven ratings—versus four or five in most other states—has something to do with it, allowing for more fine-grained distinctions among teachers. The district also carefully defined what it took to fall into each of the seven categories, field testing a rubric that measures in detail a teacher’s performance across nearly 20 different performance indicators. The result is an instrument that is much more successful at actually grouping teachers into the different rating tiers.

                           

Also, the system relies on more than just a formal observation and written summary—school leaders conduct a minimum of ten spot observations per year to provide teachers with regular instructional feedback. Spot observations (only 10-15 minutes each) appear to be a more palatable choice to school leaders, and their very nature may be a much better match with the generally frenzied pace of running a school. 

The most significant reason the Dallas system might have met with such early success is that it was so carefully piloted for a number of years in a much smaller school district, which allowed the kinks to be worked out. Dallas's superintendent, Mike Miles (who recently left) had been previously posted in the Harrison School District in Colorado Springs, Colorado where he developed the rudiments of the Dallas system. (N.B. Mike Miles sits on NCTQ's Board of Directors).

Perhaps what’s most interesting about the Dallas system is its impact on teacher pay. A highly effective teacher can now earn quite a bit more in the new regime, e.g. an "Exemplary" teacher earns a minimum of $74,000 per year, compared to $56,000 for a teacher rated "Proficient 1." Still Dallas did not pay out a single dime more in salaries this year. While most returning teachers (71 percent) received a salary increase, the additional expense was offset by the sizeable group of teachers who did not qualify. 

 

Students see more than you think

11/19/2015

In striving to achieve valid teacher evaluations, schools often overlook those who spend the most time observing teachers in action: students. As the 2013 MET study reported, student surveys are a critical tool for effective teacher evaluation. By our calculations, a classroom of 30 students might clock about 27,000 hours observing a single teacher over a school year.  It's no wonder students are more likely to arrive at a more accurate assessment than a single principal who reaches his or her conclusion on the basis of a few hours of observation.

New findings from a Dutch study not only reinforce these groundbreaking MET findings, but also add some intriguing nuance to our understanding of what students are able to discern about their teachers. 

Some 5,000 students were asked how their teachers performed across six areas, including classroom management and clarity of instruction. Because students rated teachers over three years, their perception of a teacher's development from one year to the next could be captured.  Adding even more evidence that student surveys are as accurate as any evaluation tool, they reached the same conclusion so many other kinds of research have consistently reported—that new teachers steeply improve for the first few years of teaching before leveling off. 

                                          

The study also explores new territory. Because the sample of teachers included both teachers who had entered the classroom with formal preparation as well as those who had not, researchers probed to see if students could decipher any differences between the two groups. They could. 

Across all areas, students gave consistently higher marks to teachers who had been formally trained than they did their walk-on counterparts. Given that most studies in the US have not been able to discern such differences (though no study that we know of has asked students to answer this question), this new finding suggests that either student surveys are more accurate than any measure that's previously been considered—or that the Dutch just do a better job of preparing teachers.

If the latter is the case, what might be the secret sauce of Dutch teacher prep? The central features of its preparation look like the American system—at least on the surface. New teachers must have demonstrated content proficiency in language and mathematics exams and have completed structured clinical practice, exactly the bones of what happens in the US. But in the Netherlands, practical experience is more extensive. Teacher candidates must complete 12 to 18 months of student teaching, typically in a school connected to the university.

In any case, the study builds the case for using student survey data in teacher evaluations, if not a closer examination of how the Dutch prepare their teachers. 

 

4 teachers down; 3,499,996 to go

11/05/2015

Four teachers' use of a self-monitoring checklist that successfully helped them use the Good Behavior Game is reported in a new study.*  We perked up when we saw attention paid to the Good Behavior Game (GBG) because we've previously commented on this classroom management practice: unlike virtually every other classroom practice in vogue or out, the GBG's effects have been replicated in over 50 studies between 1969 and 2015. Each study has proven the GBG’s effectiveness in reducing disruptive behaviors in pre-K through 12th grade and in producing longer-term positive effects on academic performance.  Nonetheless, our regular readers won't be surprised to learn that we estimate that only two percent of teacher candidates are even exposed to any information about the GBG in their preparation, much less taught to use it.  That's why we were heartened to see this study:  four more teachers out of the nation's 3.5 million classroom teachers now know something to help their classroom management - something that they should have learned long ago.

*Four subjects is usually a pretty small "n" size for a credible study, but this research actually does meet Institute of Education Sciences’ pilot design standards for single-case studies, no small feat. 

 

The Real Prize

11/05/2015

During a late night drive through the streets of Newark, two rising political stars—Democrat Cory Booker, then mayor of Newark, and Republican Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey—hatched a plan to transform the Newark school system. And so begins Dale Russakoff’s The Prize, telling the story of an unlikely partnership to close failing schools, expand charter school options and weaken labor agreements they saw as barriers. Within a year, Booker had caught the attention of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who agreed to donate $100 million to the cause. As Russakoff writes, “Their stated goal was not to repair education in Newark but to develop a model for saving it in all of urban America.”

Many have already written excellent summaries of the book (see here and here), so it will suffice to say that implementing a reform plan in Newark was more difficult than expected, and the money went fast. The spending led to mixed results. Some newly minted charters have been successful, while others have not. Graduation rates have increased, but test scores have decreased. To date, the investment has not produced the model of education reform that its dreamers envisioned.

We’ll leave it to others to parse whether or not Russakoff’s take on the cost of politics, personal ambition and implementation missteps to education reform in Newark is right. NCTQ’s lens is squarely focused on her characterization of the district’s teachers. Throughout the book, Russakoff includes stories from on-the-ground teachers who were at the heart of many of the city's successes. Russakoff profiles Princess Lee, a kindergarten teacher, as an example: She’s hard working, knows how to manage a classroom and can deliver content to students in ways that they understand. But these skills are presented as accessories; in the picture Russakoff paints, the key to Lee’s success is that she herself grew up poor and survived dysfunctional schools in Newark. According to Russakoff, the children in Lee’s class respect and respond to her because she is able to relate to the poverty and violence that dominate their lives, and she provides a model of how they too can be successful.

Narratives like these perpetuate the idea that the best teachers arrive to their work with certain innate qualities and life experiences that make them more effective with specific types of students. While shared life experiences can lay the foundations for meaningful classroom relationships, many successful teachers of disadvantaged students do not fit this mold. Moreover, this assumption does little to professionalize teaching, nor does it encourage districts to design a roadmap for recruiting and retaining the teaching force they need.

How can school districts get more teachers like Lee into the classroom? Great teachers aren’t just born; they are trained. We should certainly work harder to recruit talented people of color and those from low income communities to join the profession, but this has to happen in conjunction with higher expectations of teacher preparation. To begin, districts can identify the skills and knowledge necessary to teach successfully in their schools. From there, districts must convey these requirements to prospective teachers and teacher preparation programs and vet potential hires for them. 

The real prize in the American education game is highly effective teachers—and school districts need to be strategic about how to capture that prize for themselves. They can start by abandoning the narrative that great teachers are created only through context and not training.

 

States’ Teacher Evaluation Policies Stay the Course

11/05/2015

NCTQ has been tracking teacher policy for a decade. Over these years, no policy has seen such dramatic transformation as teacher evaluation. It hasn’t been an easy road for states. The simultaneous implementation of teacher effectiveness policies and the Common Core, along with the transition to new college- and career-ready assessments, have almost every state in the country in flux. The pressure is on to curb state testing and roll back teacher evaluation policies. 

But for now, we remain optimistic that states will stay the course and build on their efforts around teacher effectiveness. NCTQ’s new report released this week, State of the States 2015: Evaluating Teaching, Leading and Learning, presents the most comprehensive and up-to-date information on how states are evaluating teachers and using those results to inform policy and practice. The report also breaks new ground by providing a first look at the policy landscape on principal effectiveness.

What is clear is that teacher effectiveness policy has a strong foothold in state policy – and that’s important to its endurance. In 2015, 43 states require that student growth and achievement be considered in teacher ratings and in 35 states evaluations of teacher effectiveness are significantly or mostly informed by student growth and achievement. Twenty-three states require districts to factor teacher performance into tenure decisions.

                                       

Only three states NCTQ once recognized for having developed teacher effectiveness policies (South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin) no longer appear to require student growth and achievement to be a significant factor in teacher ratings. Today there are just five states (California, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska and Vermont) that have no formal state policy requiring that teacher evaluations take objective measures of student achievement into account in evaluating teacher effectiveness. ESEA waivers haven’t been the policy driver some think they’ve been; most state action happened before waivers came on to the scene. And most later on the scene states have enacted state policy too. In fact, only Alabama, New Hampshire and Texas have teacher evaluation policies that exist only in waiver requests to the federal government.

In our first survey of the principal evaluation landscape, we identified 34 states that require annual evaluations of school leaders. In most cases the requirements for how student achievement and other factors are weighed in principal ratings mirror the requirements for teacher evaluations. Still, principal effectiveness seems often to be an afterthought in many states. Many states do not specify who is responsible for conducting evaluations of principal effectiveness, don’t require observations of school leaders doing their jobs and don’t require training and/or certification for principal evaluators. New Jersey is a notable exception in requiring principals to be evaluated on the quality of the teacher evaluations they oversee.

While the evaluation policy landscape has been transformed, much work remains on implementation. Some states and districts have had and are continuing to learn the hard way that some practices are ill advised (Using schoolwide data only to measure student growth for teachers of non-tested grades and subjects and requiring tests that serve no instructional purpose but to provide teacher evaluation data are two that readily spring to mind). As we’ve argued all along, the real power in performance-based evaluations lies in using the results to recognize and encourage effective instruction as well as to prepare and value highly-effective teachers and leaders. And states are increasingly making some of these critical links, turning what was once a bureaucratic exercise into a more meaningful process with the potential to continually improve teaching and learning.

 

NCTQ welcomes new Senior Vice President for Teacher Preparation Strategies

10/22/2015

NCTQ is thrilled to announce the arrival of Barbara R. Davidson as our new Senior Vice President for Teacher Preparation Strategies. In addition to overseeing the work of the Teacher Prep Review, Ms. Davidson will direct our newly launched website Path to Teach, our new Pipeline initiative and our growing consultation practice with school districts and higher education institutions. Ms. Davidson comes to NCTQ with a terrific background in management of nonprofit education organizations, having served both as the President of StandardsWork and most recently the Deputy Director of Great Minds (formerly Common Core).  As our teacher preparation work is rapidly expanding into new territories and reaching new audiences, Ms. Davidson's experience and skill sets, particularly in organizational growth and educational marketing, provide a welcome addition to our leadership team.

 

Economic Downturns May Come with an Unexpected Upside

10/22/2015

When most companies are handing out more pink slips than paychecks, getting a job in teaching starts to look awfully attractive—including to people who hadn’t initially planned on a career in the classroom. But a teaching degree may not seem as good an option to those seeking challenging and lucrative careers.

Looking at recessions dating back to the 1970s, a new study from Markus Nagler, Marc Piopunik and Martin West found that teachers who begin their careers during recessions were more effective than teachers who begin teaching at other points in the economic cycle.

Using the value-added scores of Florida teachers (where a teaching degree isn’t required to enter the classroom), they found that teachers starting their careers during a recession were, on average, better at raising their students’ math and reading scores than teachers who began teaching in a stronger economy. The effect was evident across teachers at all levels of ability, but particularly striking was that the effectiveness of top teachers outpaced the top performers of non-recession years by an even greater margin. The trend toward more effective teaching was more pronounced for men than women, minorities compared to whites, and those who were older when starting to teach compared to those who were younger.

What might cause this pattern? The authors suspected that the effect came from a group of people entering teaching who otherwise would not have. People choose their careers based largely on expected earnings. In a recession, teaching appears better-paid and more stable than many other jobs, so as other job prospects shrink, teaching looks more and more attractive. The improvements in test scores were visible for teachers entering in most recessions since 1970. The pattern held even in the Great Recession of 2008, when teacher layoffs occurred but were far rarer than private sector layoffs. The fact that teachers who enter during recessions are higher performing gives credence to the theory that highly skilled people who would usually choose another job are more likely to become teachers in such conditions.

Of course, creating recessions for the sake of raising the quality of the teacher corps isn’t sound public policy. Instead, the researchers offered a more feasible lesson: raise teacher pay to attract high-performers into the classroom, even when there aren’t layoffs in other fields. While this policy suggestion ignores the appeal of job stability and availability, it fits with the study’s compelling case that people do consider how teaching stacks up against other career choices. Moreover, the findings suggest that districts should recognize recessions as potential opportunities to find some great teachers.

But another recent study complicates the picture. Erica Blom, Brian Cadena and Benjamin Keys found that those who experienced poor economic conditions at age 20 (when they were choosing their college major) were less likely to major in education than those who chose their major in good economic times. The authors suggested that students in recessions will pick majors that they think will lead to high-paying jobs and will be seen as rigorous. Since fewer students choose to major in education at such times, this suggests that it’s not perceived as lucrative or challenging (see our findings on the lack of rigor in teacher prep here).

The two studies are not contradictory—they consider different choices (job vs. college major) and different populations (teachers vs. all undergraduate students). Taken together, they suggest—unsurprisingly—that people consider much more than just their passion for the work itself when choosing a major and a career.

 

Diversity in the Teaching Workforce: False Choices and Faulty Tactics

10/22/2015

We can all agree that building a more diverse corps of teachers is important. While only a few studies have examined the role of teacher diversity in student achievement, there’s some evidence that students may learn more when taught by a teacher of their same race and that, on average, Black teachers hold higher expectations for Black students. But just recently we learned the troubling findings from a Shanker Institute report that the number of Black teachers working in some of our largest school districts is on the decline.

Just how we can attract and retain a more diverse teaching corps is a conundrum every school district in America faces.

Many advocate that the answer is to keep academic standards low for entry into teacher preparation programs so that as many minority candidates as possible make it through the pipeline. That’s a “solution” fraught with problems. For starters, it’s insulting to minority teacher candidates as well as minority students, suggesting that what’s best for them is to have a teacher who merely looks like them, regardless of how well he or she may teach.

It’s also a solution grounded in a false dichotomy, arguing that we must choose between a diverse teacher corps and high standards, but we cannot have both. In fact, the National Council on Teacher Quality has found that is simply untrue. We estimate that there are some 60 teacher preparation programs that set a high bar for entry (based on criteria like SAT/ACT scores or GPA) and also do a great job recruiting candidates of color. True, we’d like that number to be much higher, especially given that we’ve just learned from the Shanker Institute of the declining numbers of minority teachers in many cities, but the fact that dozens of preparation programs meet both goals shows that it should be within any program’s reach.

What’s worth pointing out is that well-meaning efforts to lift various academic barriers, such as removing standardized tests from undergraduate admissions criteria, haven’t done much to increase diversity. As New America analyst Stephen Burd reported in his blog, researchers are taking a hard look at colleges that are going test-optional—and what they are seeing isn’t pretty. A group of University of Georgia researchers studied 180 selective liberal arts colleges and found that colleges that made ACT and SAT scores optional for admissions actually had lower proportions of minority and low-income students.

What did these colleges gain? Higher rankings on college scorecards. Since test scores weren’t required, more people applied, so the colleges were able to boast a lower admission rate, a critical factor in college scorecards. Furthermore, only students with high SAT and ACT scores had reason to submit their scores, so colleges’ average SAT scores increased.

Instead of trying to attract teachers by dropping standards for entry, let’s try a new tactic: Make teacher preparation programs an inviting place for college students who want to learn and work hard—no matter what their race—by making the professional coursework more rigorous and substantial.

Just check out the twitter hashtag #EdMajor if you want to learn what college students have to say about how easy the education major is.

That reputation attracts college students who want to coast to a degree, but it’s a turnoff for more serious college students. Our recent report Easy A’s finds that teacher candidates are far more likely to graduate with honors than other students on the same campus. We also learned that course assignments in teacher coursework are often more subjective in nature, making it much easier to earn an “A.”

Programs also need to embark on a more aggressive recruitment of minority talent. Prep programs can take an active role in targeting promising high school students, offering scholarships, and giving additional support throughout college. In this instance, traditional preparation programs could learn from the efforts of alternative certification programs like Teach For America, whose own quite aggressive minority recruitment efforts have paid off: 49 percent of its 2015 teacher corps identify as people of color.

Yes, low teacher salaries are a hurdle to enacting high standards, especially when appealing to talented minorities who are heavily recruited. Yes, high student loans make anyone think twice about considering a career in teaching. However, these problems do not excuse colleges and universities from doing their part to raise the status of the teaching profession. Preparation programs cannot convincingly advocate for higher pay with one hand while ushering every applicant through an open door with the other.

We’re all for increasing teacher diversity. But let’s look at solutions that can be effective without sacrificing teacher quality for the students who most need great teachers. Rather than perpetuating the myth that teaching is a job that anyone can do, let’s increase recruitment efforts and seek out the people who have the academic aptitude to become our next generation of great teachers.

Note: This editorial appeared previously in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.

 

The $8 billion question

10/08/2015

At this point, we figure that everyone else has already written about the more interesting and insightful takeaways about TNTP’s latest report, entitled The Mirage (see here and here). (That’s what we get for putting out a newsletter only once every two weeks). No question that the results were depressing, finding that school districts are spending about $18,000 per teacher on professional development that isn’t developing anyone.

One explanation we liked for PD’s lack of an impact didn’t seem to get much of a bounce around the echo chamber. On the day of the report’s release, Washington, DC’s Chancellor Kaya Henderson observed that the biggest “bang for the buck” in teacher PD might lie in teachers’ study of curriculum (see above!)—hashing through standards, joint unit and lesson planning, sharing resources and materials—and that is something American school teachers just do not seem to get to do a lot, at least compared to other countries.

As if to confirm our hunch, shortly after The Mirage was released, we stumbled across an even more depressing example of How Bad PD Is in the USA, and which illustrates the disconnect between professional development and curriculum.

Two Florida State University researchers describe how school districts there essentially squandered a generously funded opportunity to allow teachers to spend a lot more time on curriculum. While roughly half of all Florida districts signed up to use dedicated Race to the Top funds to implement a Japanese Lesson Study,mostnever followed through.

No question that Lesson Study involves a significant amount of time and resources. Groups of teachers must meet regularly to set goals, review content and plan and practice lesson delivery. Doing Lesson Study right requires a hefty budget for training on how to implement the PD, devoted planning time and substitute teachers to cover classes while teachers observe each other’s lessons. When it came down to making the changes that Lesson Study requires in schedules and spending, not only did districts fail to benefit from the money they were slated to receive, most never even requested the money.

Motoka Akiba and Bryan Wilkinson never were able to pinpoint why exactly the money wasn't spent. We could posit a few guesses, but then so could our readers, we imagine.

Professional development that dives deep into curriculum, where content and pedagogy intersect, may not be simple, but it is, in our humble opinion, the Holy Grail. 

 

Curriculum: The Great Divide among Ed Reformers

10/08/2015

A few weeks ago Whitney Tilson, writing in his always entertaining blog, gave a nice nod to an op-ed by Dan Willingham in the New York Times, addressing the sorry state of American teacher preparation.

Amid his effusive praise of the Willingham piece, Whitney writes: “I think morphemes and phonemes matter too but maybe not as much as Willingham does.” 

This gently stated but dismissive consideration for the importance of good reading instruction troubles me, because I think it captures a viewpoint widely shared by many ed reformers. 

I don’t think it’s because there are many ed reformers that reject the science here—unlike many in teacher prep.  Researchers long ago identified the reading methods which would reduce the current deplorable rate of reading failure from 30% to somewhere well south of 10%—if only schools would take that step.  Teacher prep programs which fail to teach elementary teacher candidates the integral connection between spoken sounds and written words are essentially committing malpractice.

Instead, I think the issue for some ed reformers is that other reforms are a lot more important.  I can’t quite figure out why there are still perfectly reasonable, rational people who aren’t willing to embrace the 2+2=4 connection between children learning how to read and every other outcome reformers fight for.  One gets the sense that we “pro-phonemes” reformers have a bug up our behinds and that we just need to get over it.

I’m not out to pick a fight here, certainly not with an indefatigable ed reformer who consistently both puts his money where his mouth is and fights the good fight.  I’d take my complaints offline except I maintain that Whitney is only expressing out loud a view that others share in silence. The fact is that better reading preparation as critical reform is not tops on most peoples’ minds or conference agendas or policy fights or funded grants, and its absence speaks volumes. 

There is an aversion for taking on the reform fight over curriculum writ large, not just reading, even by people who normally have no problem landing a blow. I’ll never forget Michelle Rhee’s comment as chancellor:  “The last thing we’re going to do is get wrapped up in curriculum battles.” (Notably, DC schools have a far different take on curriculum now—see below!)

A few weeks ago, New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, announced a plan to hire and dispatch at great expense a reading coach (their sources unknown) for every one of its 700 schools to tackle that city’s skyrocketing rate of reading failure.  (At 70%, it’s well over twice the national average).  His plan raises the obvious question as to why the city is taking a pass on the more high-leverage intervention of just giving actual classroom teachers a strong reading curriculum and some good PD.

The last chancellor, Joel Klein, will tell you that his own inattention to curriculum, including sound reading methods, was his biggest regret from all his years as chancellor.  Many of the big charter authorizers like KIPP have also recognized the errors of their way and have adopted much stronger curricular materials.

It’s ironic that ed reformers are so united behind the Common Core standards and  yet 1) those very standards explicitly endorse scientifically based reading instruction (how about we don’t cherry pick?), and 2) the focus on the importance of “reading complex text” appears to be at the expense of early reading instruction.  As is the case in any skill, the simple must be mastered before we can master the complex. 

Kids are paying a high price for our neglect. It also allows many teacher educators to continue, unchallenged, taking an approach to reading instruction where the most popular assignment in reading courses is to ask students to “journal” about their own memories of learning how to read.  And that exercise helps them how?

This isn’t complicated.  There’s really nothing here to debate.  Can’t we all get on the same page?

 

Staying in my classroom while expanding my reach beyond it

09/24/2015

Today’s TQB features commentary from Melody Arabo, Michigan’s 2015 Teacher of the Year.

Imagine a hybrid role that allows teachers to take on leadership initiatives in a supported environment, and stay connected to students in the classroom. Would teachers and administrators be interested? Would people see the value in it? Michigan’s Walled Lake Consolidated School District is looking to find the answers as they implement an innovative teacher hybrid role during this school year.

Being in a classroom every day is exhilarating, but also very limiting. Teachers often feel overwhelmed and disconnected from the outside world. Many would like to collaborate and influence decision-making, but they aren’t given the chance. In the rare instances leadership opportunities do arise, they come packaged with extra responsibilities tacked on to an already overflowing teacher workload. This is one of the reasons why, in an effort to make a greater impact or further their careers, effective teachers leave the classroom and move into other positions.

Unfortunately, not long after an educator leaves the classroom to serve in other roles, other teachers are not as receptive to what they have to say. That’s understandable—things change so quickly in teaching and it is hard to fully understand the day-to-day dynamic unless you are actually experiencing it. While this may not be the right attitude to have, it is the nature of our profession. On the opposite end, because school structure can be so limiting, administrators and policy makers rarely have the opportunity to get input from teachers, at times resulting in well-intentioned but uninformed decisions that can negatively impact teachers’ work. The transition from theory to practice gets lost in this shuffle.

As the 2015 Michigan Teacher of the Year, I stepped out of my classroom for a year to travel around the state and nation and explore all aspects of education. Professionally, my biggest takeaway from that experience was that there is a massive disconnect between those that are in the classroom and those who make decisions for the classroom. I was shocked by the lack of teacher voice in the places it is needed most and am desperate to find a solution. Personally, my biggest takeaway was that I had reached a crossroads in my career and felt pressure to decide the path I would take. I spent 12 years in a classroom working directly with kids and the last year immersed in the world of teacher leadership working with adults, all work which I loved. I became determined to find a way to incorporate the best of both worlds. These factors became the driving force behind an idea that I developed with my great friend and talented colleague, Angela Colasanti.

The idea is simple: a Co-Teacher/Leadership Development Hybrid Role where two teachers share one classroom and all teaching responsibilities. How teachers are paired in this role is key; the two must have a strong level of trust and comfort with one another, along with a similar classroom management and teaching style. Both would work in the classroom together on a regular basis, but having two teachers provides flexibility for either to be elsewhere when needed. Even while in the classroom together, one teacher can focus on instruction and the other can be implementing new initiatives.

It is important to note that this is not a 50/50 shared time position. This differs from a typical half-classroom, half-instructional coach position because it offers a fluid structure, allowing teachers to work together, collaborate and implement ideas while sharing the same space. Their classroom would be up-to-date on all current best practices and can be used as a lab class for professional learning.

This hybrid role aims to serve as a bridge between all levels of the school system in order to strengthen each of them. By providing teacher perspective in places where it has been missing, it will create more balance and impact in policy because teachers should be at the table anytime the conversation is about education. At the same time, teachers will gain a better understanding of the dynamics that occur beyond our classrooms. This position is meant to tap into leadership potential, increase teacher efficacy, strengthen instructional practices, provide opportunities to connect and learn from one another and build capacity for sustainable change. All of these things will result in positive changes that will benefit educators, students and the community as a whole.

The more we move towards hybrid roles, the more we professionalize the profession and see teachers as the valued experts they are. We hope you follow along in Walled Lake’s journey as “The Hybrid Teachers” develop new career pathways for educators!

 

Early childhood interventions—a slow fade and a strong comeback?

09/24/2015

When trying to improve educational outcomes, it is hard not to feel the need for urgency. We want to figure out what works now andimplement changes now because if we wait, those kids who are in schools now will miss out. Unfortunately, this pressure to act quickly may be fundamentally at odds with the ability to measure what really works, since a meaningful change in the trajectory of student achievement is not always apparent until years later. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University provides a compelling example of exactly this conundrum.

Schanzenbach’s thesis is that too often, education research only assesses an intervention’s immediate or intermediate outcomes without capturing its full long-term benefits. This may be particularly relevant, she asserts, when judging the impact of early childhood investments.

Schanzenbach offers the example of two studies (both of which she co-authored) on the famous 1990s Project STAR class size experiment in Tennessee. That well-known experiment assigned students randomly to either regularly sized classes or small classes. Researchers behind both papers (the first from Dynarski, Hyman and Schanzenbach, 2013, and the second from Chetty, Friedman, Hilger, Saez, Schanzenbach and Yagan, 2011) found that the smaller kindergarten classes yielded an immediate bump in students’ test scores for that year—but both papers report that this bump faded as students entered middle school.

But that’s not the end of the story. When the students became adults, clear positive impacts reemerged, so to speak, for those students who had been placed in the smaller classes. Schanzenbach concludes that “we find that the actual long-run impacts were larger than what would have been predicted based on the short-run test score gains.”

The failure of test score gains to endure and carry through to what later turn out to be positive outcomes may confirm public skepticism about test scores as an accurate indicator of long-term achievement.

But not so fast. 

Schanzenbach is right in noting that the fade-out of higher test scores two to six years after the intervention did not correlate with more positive life outcomes. However, the immediate test score gains from the year of the intervention, when students were in kindergarten, were highly predictive of students’ college attendance and degree completion. Schanzenbach admits as much, stating with her colleagues that “the short-term effect of small classes on test scores, it turns out, is an excellent predictor of its long-term effect on adult outcomes,” (Dynarski et al., 2013).

Schanzenbach’s theory finds stronger footing in her second paper, Chetty et al. This paper looked at both kindergarten class size and each student’s kindergarten classroom quality (as measured by the average test scores of his classmates at the end of kindergarten—a proxy for a combination of peer effects, teacher effects, and other classroom characteristics). Again, small kindergarten classes correlated with higher kindergarten test scores and higher college attendance.

Moreover, while the higher kindergarten test scores were correlated with higher earnings at age 27, they provide a statistically significant explanation for only a small portion of the difference in earnings. Thus, the short-term test score bump can barely begin to explain the benefits students derived later on in life from having been assigned to a smaller or higher-quality class.

The missing piece of the statistical puzzle was students’ non-cognitive skills. When the STAR students were in 4th and 8th grades they were assessed on non-cognitive outcomes, with results finding stronger non-cognitive outcomes but faded test-score gains for the students who had been in the small class sizes.

Furthermore, these non-cognitive measures seem to explain a much greater share of future earnings than do the academic outcomes. Teasing apart the positive impact of higher test scores and stronger non-cognitive skills achieved in a one-standard deviation higher-quality kindergarten classroom, the higher 4th grade test scores would predict an additional $40 of income at age 27 but, the non-cognitive skills would predict an additional $139 in earnings.

Although we think Schanzenbach’s characterization of the findings in Dynarsky et al. undersells the predictive power of immediate test score gains, she does raise several critical points. The first is that early childhood interventions may foster outcomes that most strongly emerge long after the initial study period has ended, thereby eluding researchers who only measure immediate and intermediate outcomes for a few years. The second is that interventions may yield effects that cannot be evaluated purely by measures of academic skills and content. As our understanding of the importance of grit and executive functioning grows, so too should our measures of the impact of classroom experience on these skills alongside standardized test scores. 

 

The numbers don’t lie-but they may bend the truth a little

09/10/2015

Here's a question which (as far as we know) no one has asked before: are new teachers who graduate from more elite colleges more likely to quit?

Sean Kelly and Laura Northrop of the University of Pittsburgh ask and answer this question, reporting that teachers who attend highly selective institutions are more likely to leave the profession than their peers. 

However, we're crying foul.

State Kelly and Northrop: graduates of highly selective institutions have an estimated “85 percent greater likelihood of leaving the profession than less selective graduates in the first three years of teaching” (p. 25).  Wow. That’s bad, right?

Before districts start turning away any applicants from the Ivy League, read the fine print. The researchers used data from a sample of teachers (via the federal government’s Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Survey) to estimate that across all teachers, about 15 percent of graduates from highly selective colleges are likely to leave the profession within three years, compared to eight percent of graduates from less selective institutions. True, that roughly seven percentage point difference (15 percent minus eight percent) does represent an 85 percent increase, as Kelly and Northrop claim, but, also true, it’s a distinction without a difference.

First, a little about statistics. An increase from 10 to 15 percent or from 90 to 95 percent is, in both instances, a five percentage point increase. However, in the former, it’s a 50 percent increase; in the latter, it’s only a 5.5 percent increase. Clearly, choosing to use percents (as Kelly and Northrop do) rather than percentage points is misleading…while still technically accurate.

Second, and more to the point, while the different attrition rates were not negligible, they also weren’t statistically significant. Kelly and Northrop attribute the lack of statistical significance to the small sample size (160 graduates from highly selective colleges, and 1,350 graduates from less selective colleges), but that doesn’t tamp down their enthusiasm for repeatedly referring to the difference in attrition rate—even though it was statistically indistinguishable from zero.

Less time was spent on findings that were statistically significant. For example, we also learn that teachers who started their teaching career later in life were found to be more likely to leave the profession within three years. Teachers who were earning relatively higher salaries were found to be less likely to leave.

 

Can student teaching be the driver for teacher quality?

09/10/2015

I can be a slow learner.

My colleagues at NCTQ and I have been working together on teacher quality for well over a decade. For a long time, we sorted issues into neat little buckets, which allowed us to organize complicated problems into some manageable order: 1. Teacher preparation programs. 2. State policies. 3. School district policies and practices. 

Those buckets are what made us overlook an opportunity, right under our nose, to rapidly and systematically improve teacher quality through student teaching partnerships formed when preparation programs work with school districts to place teacher candidates in schools in order to get real classroom experience.  

NCTQ studied and ranked student teaching programs over the last five years in order to better understand why so many student teachers don’t have good experiences. Given the problems we and others have chronicled, it certainly didn’t seem likely that student teaching could serve as a promising vehicle for solving the nation’s teacher quality challenges.

The aha moment was a realization that the student teaching experience is the point at which the interests of two institutions we had perceived to be in separate silos actually do intersect. Where interests intersect, so do the possibilities. After that critical point, their interaction and interests diverge: any attempts to alter outcomes for teacher candidates simply will be too late.

So back it up a bit—just as we did. What if both institutions approached student teaching differently and ended up the better for it?  

To begin, school districts would stop indiscriminately accepting as many student teachers, regardless of subject area, and instead adjust the numbers to line up with what is indicated by their general hiring trends. For example, if the district doesn’t typically hire more than 25 elementary teachers each year, it would no longer accept a couple hundred of elementary student teachers.

Conversely, programs in high production states would also look increasingly out of state to place student teachers—particularly in rural areas, which have such a hard time finding teachers. Rural districts would embrace such partnerships, since they know that they’re much more likely to be able to convince a student teacher, hopefully fresh off a positive experience and having overcome the hurdle of moving to an unfamiliar place, to come teach in their district.

Such shifts would produce a much closer alignment of teacher supply with teacher demand and insert some rationale for the ongoing overproduction of elementary teachers.   

Beyond subject areas, school districts would also make sure that student teachers have necessary knowledge and skills. Where there is a mismatch, programs would have to look elsewhere to place candidates or adjust their preparation programs to better meet the needs of the district.

This shift would lead to a better alignment between the demands of preparation and of the classroom, as school districts and teacher prep programs would have to agree on the core knowledge and skills every student teacher should have acquired.

School districts would take much more seriously the quality of the classroom teacher who is assigned to mentor student teachers. Instead of basing these assignments on recruiting any willing teacher—regardless of aptitude—they would only allow great teachers to mentor student teachers. While it’s true that many great teachers currently turn down the chance to mentor a student teacher for fear of having to essentially babysit a weak student teacher, our bet is that they would line up for the privilege given the assurance that the student teacher was capable and dedicated to the profession.

This shift would ensure a uniformly strong student teaching experience to all student teachers and would result in a more seamless pipeline of teacher talent into the district. Keep in mind that a student teacher who has had a fabulous experience is much more likely to accept a job offer than one who has not. Districts need to treat their best teachers as their top recruiters.  

With these shifts in mind, NCTQ has launched a new initiative to make student teaching partnerships work a whole lot better than they currently do for all parties: teacher candidates who want strong student teaching experiences, teacher prep programs who want to make sure that student teaching is a top-notch culminating experience, and school districts who want to recruit and hire the best teacher candidates. We're calling it Pipeline, because that is the role that student teaching should play as the connector from preparation programs into districts. In this pilot year, we're working with a select group of districts before offering it to a national audience.  

In any case, now I get it. When thinking about teacher quality, it's not about what teacher prep programs need to do “over here” and what school districts should be doing “over there.” It's about making sure that, since their interests are shared, they work together, and, yes, maybe turn a little straw into gold for the benefit of a new generation of teachers and their students. 

 

Switching it up isn’t always a good thing

08/27/2015

Rather than looking for the next big reform to improve teacher quality, a new study considers whether it’s time for things to stay the same. Researcher David Blazar of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard recently looked into what happens when we play musical chairs with teachers’ grade assignments.

For starters, teachers switching grades happens more often than you may think, ranging from about one in five teachers in any given year in some studies to more than one in three in others.

What Blazar finds is that this constant switching is not good for students. Using teachers’ value-added estimates, Blazar compared the average returns to experience (the measure of how much a teacher improves due to more years in the classroom) for teachers who do and don’t switch grades. Unfortunately, switching grades was almost never for the better.

For example, a teacher who switched grades between her second and third year of teaching generally reported 20 percent lower gains than teachers who had the same amount of experience but remained in the same grade. At some points in a teacher’s career, the learning losses associated with switching grades lingered for at least two years.

The type of switch matters too. Those teachers who switched to an adjacent grade (e.g., 2nd to 3rd grade) generally fared better than those who made a nonadjacent grade switch (e.g., 2nd grade to 4th grade). This makes sense: a teacher faces a steeper learning curve, in terms of classroom management techniques, curriculum, etc., when she switches to a grade very different than the one taught before, compared to what she has to learn when teaching a similar grade.

Given that changing grades means that the teacher is likely to be less effective than she would have been had she stayed put, it’s disconcerting that these grade changes were more common for less experienced and less effective teachers. Making matters worse, teachers in schools with low student achievement and higher proportions of low-income students and students of color also had higher rates of grade switching.

As Blazar makes clear, this all must be looked at in context. Grade assignments can be made for positive reasons. For example, it could be forced or chosen (a factor Blazar was unable to control for), and that intent could potentially make a difference in how well a teacher performs the following year. Nevertheless, there’s enough evidence here to suggest that a principal should think twice about changes in teacher assignment.

 

End double—and lower—standards for special education teachers

08/27/2015

Almost 6.4 million students—about 13% of students overall—receive special education services. Meanwhile, nearly the same percentage of the teacher workforce works in special education classrooms. Considering the need for these professionals and the specialized skills required of them, you’d think expectations for preparing and licensing special education teachers would be at least as high as they are for other teachers, if not higher.

In fact, states set an appallingly low bar for licensing special education teachers– a categorically lower bar than for general education teachers. How is it that less is required for the very teachers whose students need more?

Nearly two thirds of all states do not sufficiently differentiate between the knowledge and skills needed to teach elementary grades versus secondary grades. These states send a loud and clear message that, when it comes to special education, the knowledge and preparation a teacher needs for a first grade classroom is similar to what’s needed for an 11th grade classroom. Would this be an acceptable premise for general education? Of course not.

State requirements are even more dismal when it comes to content knowledge preparation. While it has become commonplace for states to require general education elementary teachers to pass a content knowledge test, only 14 states require the same of special education elementary teachers.

At the secondary level, the problem is even worse. Unlike their counterparts in general education, they are usually generalists rather than single-subject teachers. Only three states—MissouriNew York and Wisconsin—require grade-appropriate tests in all core subjects for a secondary special education license. Five other states require tests in at least one subject. That means that the overwhelming majority of special education high school math teachers, for example, may know shockingly little math.

How can we expect our special education students to meet the same standards as general education students when we have a double—and decidedly lower—standard for their teachers?

For decades, districts have been unable to find enough special education teachers, explaining but not excusing states’ unwillingness to raise standards.

But some are willing. New York, for example, has done more than any other state to raise expectations for special ed teachers, raising the bar for content knowledge and preparing teachers to be effective reading teachers, an area of particular need for special education students. IndianaMissouri and Rhode Island are also on the right track. These states have recognized that the real problem goes well beyond recruitment. Special education teachers also have to be set up for success during their training and preparation. Special education students deserve well-trained teachers, and aspiring special education teachers deserve to be adequately prepared to successfully do their jobs. 

 

Who is teaching the students? Depends on which students you are talking about!

08/13/2015

Welcome to a new school year! A chance to learn new subjects, make new friends and be reminded anew of the disparities in education.

We’ve written a lot (see here, here, and here) about the mounting evidence of a particularly pernicious element of the achievement gap—that the quality of the person at the head of the classroom often varies depending on who’s sitting in the desks. Dan Goldhaber and Roddy Theobald of American Institutes for Research and Lesley Lavery of Macalester College analyzed data from Washington State to take a more comprehensive look at whether disadvantaged students are being taught by the cream of the crop—or the bottom of the barrel. Unlike past studies, which generally only looked at one facet of teacher quality, this study is the first to include multiple measures of teacher quality and student disadvantage across districts, schools and classrooms.

Goldhaber, et al. found that no matter how they measured student disadvantage (free/reduced price lunch status, underrepresented minority status (defined as American Indian, black, or Hispanic), or scores in the lowest quintile of the previous year’s state assessment), disadvantaged students lost out. They were more likely to have a teacher who had fewer years of experience, a lower licensure score and a low prior-year value added measure (VAM). The most consistent and significant gaps were at the district level, but some noteworthy gaps showed up among schools within a district and occasionally even between classes. The most pronounced difference was in 7th grade, where underperforming disadvantaged students were significantly more likely to be assigned the least effective teachers.

There is hope though—most of the significant disparities were at the district level, where policymakers have more leverage than schools to enact changes to attract more experienced and more effective teachers, especially in their hardest-hit grades. While the districts may never woo teachers as if they were top-tier athletes, incentives such as leadership opportunities, hybrid teaching roles, consistent effective leadership, job-embedded professional development and pay increases could entice highly effective educators to teach in high-needs districts.

Jessica teaches Latin in the DC Public Schools and spent her summer vacation as a Fellow at NCTQ.  Thank you, Jessica! 

 

Student-Centered Instruction to Boost Mathematics Achievement?

08/13/2015

Want to increase mathematics achievement for all first grade students? Focus on teacher-directed instruction.

That takeaway is from new research by Paul Morgan and Steve Maczuga of Penn State University and George Farkas of the University of California that quantifies the impact of different instructional activities on student performance. While teacher-directed instruction was beneficial for students of all ability levels, the authors found that student-centered activities (group work, solving real-life math, using manipulatives) were only helpful to students already performing well in mathematics, even though those activities were more often used in classrooms with greater numbers of struggling students.

As intriguing as these findings are, they are not without caveats. As the authors note, the classroom activities were self-reported by teachers, leaving room for error in how activities were coded. Also, the study only measured how frequently teachers employed different types of activities, with no measure of how well they were implemented. The data were collected in 1998-1999, which predates the common use of most computers in classrooms; how this technology might affect student-centered learning is unknown. Nevertheless, the findings are by no means irrelevant. 

 

Is it better to look like a good idea than be one?

08/13/2015

Student teaching is intended to be the culminating experience of a teacher’s preparation. It's typically a fall or spring semester commitment. Over the last few years, there's been a steady drum beat for turning it into a full year. And, as I’ve witnessed numerous times, it’s an idea that plays very well with all sorts of audiences, and is met with the same approving nods and applause as smaller class sizes.  What's not to love?

Except at scale it's not a particularly practical idea nor is it even a good one.

Let’s examine its practicality. Requiring a full-year of high quality student teaching effectively means placing far too many student teachers in less-than-ideal classrooms.  Just as California and Florida learned when they reduced class sizes, the supposed learning benefits are quickly undermined when the classroom teacher is weak.  There is nothing magic about spending a full year instead of a half year under the tutelage of a weak teacher.

We estimate that of the nation's 3+ million classroom teachers, only about 1 in 25 is likely to have all of the qualifications needed to mentor a student teacher: has the necessary experience (at least 3 years by most state laws), is highly effective (in the upper quartile among their peers), has the ability to mentor an adult (lots of great teachers make poor mentors), and, most importantly, has the willingness to take on the responsibility of a student teacher year in and year out.  For many teachers, particularly great teachers, having a student teacher in their classroom is disruptive to the real work at hand. A 1:25 ratio adds up to about 120,000 qualified, willing teachers across the nation.

That’s not even enough qualified teachers to cover a semester’s worth of student teaching, 30,000 short of the current level of 150,000 placements.  No wonder so many student teachers don’t get the high quality experience they need.  Double the length and the quality deficit is irremediable.

But what’s more important—and ironic—than the impracticality of the year-long push is that its implementation means that teacher candidates will be even less likely to get the foundational training they need.

For as valuable as student teaching is, it should only come after teacher candidates have first had lots of time and practice without real children serving as their guinea pigs. Think of the piano student who must practice scales, or the football player who does the same drills over and over, or the medical student who learns from simulations or cadavers before encountering real live patients. Why would teaching be exempt from this kind of mastery building, in which teachers must practice the instructional strategies most likely to lead to success?

I recently shared a podium with SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, once the education dean at Ohio State. She also rejects this push for a full year of student teaching, vehemently insisting that programs should instead require advanced skills building before placing student teachers in front of real children.

Some teacher prep programs, both traditional and non-traditional, are ramping up just such practice opportunities using video, virtual classrooms, role playing or simulations. Candidates who emerge from these intense practice sessions in which individual skills are rehearsed to mastery will arrive at student teaching far more competent and ready to teach children. 

 

Confronting our biases in student discipline cases

07/23/2015

Racial disparities have long been observed in school discipline records. Stanford University researchers Jason Okonofua and Jennifer Eberhardt shed new light on teachers’ own perceptions about race and the role those perceptions play in who gets disciplined.

Researchers recruited about 250 K-12 teachers from across the U.S. to participate in an online experimental study.  They were asked to review student discipline records, enabling researchers to distinguish those students perceived as serial "troublemakers" from those only guilty of some routine hi-jinks. While the race of the students was not identified, the researchers assigned each either a fake and stereotypically Black name (e.g., DeShawn) or a White one (e.g., Jake). Most of the participating teachers were female, White, around 40 years of age and fairly experienced.

Each student had committed two minor infractions. After reviewing a student's first infraction, teachers’ assessments were similar regardless of the student’s presumed race.  However, following the second infraction, teachers viewed the (presumably) Black students’ misbehavior as significantly more serious, warranting more severe discipline. They were more likely to label those students as “troublemakers"—more likely requiring future discipline.

Prejudice runs deep and solutions to racial biases in education may not be any clearer than racial biases in policing. As with most problems, admitting that there is one (e.g., having teachers confront their own biases) is a good starting point. Recall this popular riddle from the 1980s with an answer that seems obvious now, but wasn’t then:

A man and his son were in a horrible car accident.  The man died.  The son was taken to the hospital and immediately taken into the operating room.  The doctor took one look at the boy and said “I can’t operate on this child. He’s my son.”

If you’re scratching your head, you’ve got some work to do. 

 

Stay or go? Your contract might provide some insight!

07/23/2015

People have offered many reasons for the inequitable distribution of teacher talent and experience across schools:salary, the desirability of the locale, recruitment, the student teacher pipeline, to name some. A new study that has gotten a lot of attention from the Center for Education Data & Research by Dan Goldhaber, Lesley Lavery and Roddy Theobald adds to the log pile: the seniority rules spelled out in collective bargaining agreements. 

The central question: are teachers (especially experienced ones) more likely to leave high-minority schools if the district’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) has strong seniority protections? Districts generally pick one of four options for the role of seniority in transfer decisions: 1) prohibiting it from being used, 2) allowing it as one of several factors to consider, 3) letting it serve as a tiebreaker and 4) making it the only factor that can be considered. 

Tracking some 60,000 teachers’ transfers, Goldhaber et al. find what we're used to seeing, that more teachers transfer out of high-minority schools and it’s the teachers with more seniority who are most likely to leave those schools (see Figure 1).

              

But then new ground gets plowed. Contracts specifying that seniority must be the tiebreaker make the pattern illustrated in the graph all the more pronounced.  Novice teachers are more likely to transfer out of low-minority schools and even less likely to transfer out of those with large populations of minority students (see Figure 2).  In other words, factoring in seniority means that novice teachers have less leverage to transfer out of high-minority schools.

For voluntary transfers (those requested by a teacher), novice teachers are 50 percent more likely to transfer out of those schools with large proportions of minority students, all else equal, if they teach in a district that does not address seniority than if it is a tiebreaker. We see a similar pattern for teachers who are involuntarily transferred out of their schools.

             

Some possible solutions?  Obviously, districts can work to remove seniority as a factor from transfer decisions and instead base decisions on merit and fit for the position, rather than only years of service.  Or, some districts have implemented an interview process to help with matching teachers to schools during the transfer process. Finally, in order to incentivize senior teachers to stay in disadvantaged schools, districts can also offer leadership positions or other rewards to those teachers.

To learn more about how seniority factors into district policies, see NCTQ’s Teacher Trendline on the topic and take a look at the school districts in your state in our Teacher Contract Database

 

A new tool for teacher policy change: the gavel

07/23/2015

“It should not take this long.”

A simple sentiment, but one that likely resonates with almost any teacher who has ever moved to a new state only to then engage in a head-spinning exercise to receive the state's permission to practice. 

Interviewed in EdWeek, Michelle Hughes knows about her state’s "reciprocity" labyrinth. She’s among 10 teachers who sued the Minnesota Board of Teaching in April, arguing that out-of-state teachers are required to jump through many confusing hoops before they can be licensed in the North Star State.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of Minnesota’s new law designed to streamline the out-of-state teacher licensure process. Teachers in the lawsuit want to cement the change in Minnesota’s reciprocity statutes because the state has passed legislative reform before that hasn’t fixed the problem.

Minnesota’s changes—both legislative and those being discussed in court—are a step in the right direction, but enough of these baby steps.  There is still much more the state can do.

In fact, while we’ve seen a lot of action around teacher evaluations and other personnel policies, licensure reciprocity remains a neglected problem across the country—with states generally showing a remarkable hostility to teachers who try to transfer a license from another locale.  

Only six states (Alabama, New York, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming) have reciprocity rules with no strings attached, meaning there are no cumbersome mandates requiring out-of-state teachers to complete additional coursework or to have taught a certain number of years within a recent time period. Of those states, only two—Texas and West Virginia—treat out-of-state teachers equally regardless of whether they trained in traditional or alternative teacher prep programs.

Considering the fact that several states are facing worsening shortages in specific areas (i.e., STEM, English Language Learners and rural districts), you’d think more would be focused on how to get effective teachers from out-of-state through their reciprocity red tape and into the classroom.

Lawsuits like this one are a practice to watch. While public education is no stranger to the courtroom, it increasingly seems as though critics of teacher policies are not settling for legislative or regulatory action as the only pathways for change. Last year, Vergara v. California made huge waves when a trial court ruled that the state’s teacher policies failed kids. Since then, others are proposing bypassing state legislatures to move similar policy changes through state courts.

Is the licensure reciprocity case in Minnesota a signal that broader teacher quality policy, beyond tenure and layoffs, could get increased judicial scrutiny? Perhaps just the threat will spark action from the more traditional teacher policy makers.

 

TeachLivE offers a new twist on practice teaching

07/09/2015

Imagine that you’re trying to teach a lesson on cell division, and one student will not pay attention. Even worse, she keeps talking back to you. The interaction is starting to distract other students, too. Finally, you snap. You yell. And you realize that it will be hard to rebuild rapport with the student at whom you yelled.

“Pause.” Like the deus ex machina in a Greek play, your instructor freezes the action and asks you what went wrong and what you could have done differently. Then you and your students return to the beginning of the lesson as if you had never lost your temper—and you try a new strategy for keeping the student’s attention and keeping your cool.

This scenario (and ones like it) are playing out in roughly 75 teacher prep programs across the country as they employ a new tool in teacher training: virtual students. TeachLivE, created by the University of Central Florida, allows real teacher candidates to teach a class of student avatars. These avatars are controlled by an “interactor” who gives voice to the student avatars and manipulates their movements with the push of a button—all in real time as the candidate teaches the class.

This new technology could offer teacher training the capacity to satisfy the classroom equivalent of medicine's Hippocratic Oath: when aspiring teachers test their skills on virtual students, they can “do no harm.” Of course, TeachLivE is not meant to take the place of student teaching—it’s intended more as a practice tool.

The potential uses for TeachLivE could include an introduction to teaching, an opportunity to practice skills and a summative assessment of teaching skills:

·  Several institutions are already using TeachLivE to give aspiring teachers a taste of classroom interaction that goes well beyond customary visits. The experience of being in front of the room rather than on the sidelines will help them decide if the job is right for them.

·  A second use of TeachLivE involves using it as a stage to rehearse teaching. Preparation programs’ presentations at a recent TeachLivE conference suggest this is the most prevalent use. A few examples of skills candidates have practiced with avatars’ help include asking deep questions, delivering lessons to ELL students and addressing student misbehavior. Preparation programs often find that TeachLivE practice sessions are more effective when teacher candidates are told what to teach—so that their focus is on how to teach. (This mirrors our thoughts about anchored assignments in Easy A’s.) 

·  As for TeachLivE's use as a summative evaluation, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) is piloting a new performance assessment, NOTE, which will employ TeachLivE in three of its four performance tasks. Intriguing as the concept it, this will be a very heavy lift for an April 2016 roll-out.

With its potential to give candidates more opportunities to hone their craft before they enter the classroom, TeachLivE is a technology with a great deal of promise.

 

Give these teachers some shade

07/09/2015

Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants. Justice Brandeis' famous dictum for disclosure may have a limit: the public release of teacher performance data.

A new study from researchers Peter Bergman of Teachers College, Columbia University and Matthew J. Hill of RAND makes a cogent case for caution by detailing what happened to teachers and students after the 2010 publication of teacher value-added measure (VAM) data by the Los Angeles Times.

The researchers cleverly exploited a decision by the Times to only publish data for teachers who taught at least 60 students, in order to judge the impact of having one's performance data published for the entire world to see.

The idea is straightforward: Create two groups of teachers and compare what happened to them after the Times’ 2010 publication: those slightly above the 60-student threshold (whose VAM scores were published) and those slightly below (whose scores were not published). Teachers within those groups should not differ—and the authors ran some checks to make certain this is so—except that some were published and some were not.

The result? High VAM teachers whose results were published were more likely to be assigned students who do better on state tests (likely because parents pressure schools for such assignments or principals proactively try to head off complaints from such parents).

Further, on average, the test scores produced by published teachers were no better or worse than what was produced by unpublished teachers. However, this average obscures a significant difference: after publication, the highest VAM teachers did worse while the lowest VAM teachers improved.

Recently, the Washington Teachers' Union, representing District of Columbia teachers, urged that the DC City Council not restrict public access to teacher evaluations. They should review the cautionary lessons of this study.

 

Who stays? Following teacher retention from the beginning

07/09/2015

Back in 2007, the National Center for Education Statistics began collecting data for a study that would, for the first time, give us better data on new teacher mobility. This is a big deal because most studies lose sight of a teacher once she moves out of the study’s district or state—with the result that retention rates have been misreported for years. 

The Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study follows the same group of teachers for five years, regardless of where they live—even if they leave a state. The headline finding was that only 17 percent of new teachers leave after the first four years (the gray areas in the graph below).  That's a far cry from the oft-repeated education myth that 50 percent of teachers leave within their first five years.

                     

But there are other intriguing findings that haven’t received as much attention in mainstream news.

For example, there was no difference in the attrition rates of those teachers who began teaching with a bachelor’s degree and those who began teaching with a master’s degree—a somewhat counterintuitive finding given the amount of time and money invested in earning an advanced degree.

It's also worth noting that teachers who entered through an alternative pathway had an attrition rate of about 21 percent compared to 16 percent for traditionally certified teachers (after four years)—clearly not as large a gap as is often suggested. 

The surprising similarity in attrition rates reported for teachers who had been working in different kinds of schools also caught our attention. After four years, there was almost no difference in the attrition rates of teachers who began their careers in a city or suburban school (17.2 percent) and those who began teaching in a small town or rural school (17.5 percent). Likewise, those who started teaching in schools above 50 percent free/reduced lunch rate had an attrition rate of about 19 percent—again only a bit more than the 16 percent rate that was reported for teachers in schools below that line.

Of course, just as important as the characteristics of the schools where teachers begin their career is what type of schools they move to as their career continues. Teachers may be staying in the profession at higher rates than frequently believed, but are they staying in the schools that need them most?  That's a question that still needs answering. 

 

Getting great teachers takes high standards

06/18/2015

Raising standards is hard. But as painful as it is to decide that not everyone is cut out to teach or that some candidates aren’t prepared well enough to do so, the alternative is a travesty. Letting weak candidates into teaching robs the profession of its integrity and can cheat children for a lifetime.

Earlier this month, Manhattan’s U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood ruled that a general knowledge test that New York formerly required teachers to pass was discriminatory toward minorities. A previous test suffered the same fate; a third one could be thrown out next.

Though many teacher candidates of all races struggled to pass the disputed test, minorities failed at a higher rate than whites and that continues to be true with the new test. Unfortunately, this pattern is reflected on virtually every achievement test, a tragic testament to this country’s long and unconscionable history of delivering inferior education to people in poverty and particularly people of color.

Even though the deliberate discrimination of Jim Crow and “separate but equal” have ended, as a country, we’ve replaced those overt policies with more subtle but still shameful practices.

Almost as a matter of course, new and weak teachers continue to be assigned to schools with large concentrations of high-needs children. Disadvantaged children of all races, but especially African-American and Hispanic students, pay the price of a system that encourages and rewards our best teachers for working with the most privileged children.

Raising expectations for aspiring teachers while simultaneously increasing the number of teachers of color are not mutually exclusive goals – though they are often painted as such. But it does require us to recruit reasonably strong candidates, training them well and – importantly – rewarding and elevating them and the profession for doing relentlessly demanding work.

In her decision, Judge Wood conceded that the test in question does "not appear to require any significant outside knowledge.” Rather, it tests for such abilities as “reading comprehension, logical thinking, and problem solving.” Curiously, this important judgment has not gotten a lot of attention – and it should.

Of course, every student needs and deserves a teacher who has these skills, and it goes without saying that if a teacher doesn’t have these abilities, she’s unlikely to be able to impart them to her students.

In an illogical turn, Judge Wood then went on to say that it’s an “unproved assumption that specific facets of liberal arts and science knowledge” are important for teachers to know. Many teachers are undoubtedly insulted by that reasoning, and, if presented with it, many parents would be outraged. Why shouldn’t they be?

For many children, the U.S. education system is providing a first-class education that is preparing them to compete and succeed in an increasingly hyper-competitive world. Expectations for these students and for their teachers continue to ratchet up.

Meanwhile, though, judges, lawmakers and policy makers are wringing their hands about whether what’s good for these kids is good for all children. Their hesitation, agonizing, and rationalizing are profoundly handicapping thousands upon thousands of children – some of whom surely could have become great teachers.

 

A snapshot of substitute teacher policies

06/18/2015

Substitute teachers have been in the news frequently as of late.  In our most recent Teacher Trendline we laid out what we know about substitute teacher policies from the Teacher Contract Database. One thing is clear: there’s a wide range in district policies.

The minimum education requirement for substitute teachers ranges from a high school diploma or GED in 11 percent of districts to a Bachelor’s degree in 41 percent of districts. Licensing requirements also run the gamut. While eight percent of district policies require full teacher licenses for regular daily substitutes, 44 percent have no licensing requirements. When it comes to compensation, Portland (OR) leads the way, paying substitutes a minimum of $182 per day. On the other end of the pay scale are 16 percent of districts that only pay a minimum of $70 per day or less.

What else can we say about most districts in the database?  Seventy-seven percent do not address health care coverage for substitute teachers in their contracts, board policies, or substitute teacher handbooks. Of the 28 districts that do address the issue, 14 provide health care only to long-term or full-time substitute teachers.

Read more about substitute teacher policies across the districts in our Teacher Contract Database here.

 

Goldilocks and the econometric models

06/18/2015

Things that get better with time: fine wines, first edition books and even teachers in spite of prevailing wisdom. That’s the claim of a new study that asserts that there is in fact “returns to experience” for teachers (the technical term for the improvement teachers experience due to more years in the classroom).

It's not that this new study disagrees with previous research that teachers tend to improve rapidly their first few years in the classroom, with growth tapering off somewhere around years three to five. But most studies have found that by year five (or at the most year 10), teachers have hit a plateau, and if they get better after that point, it’s due to some external forces (“year effects”) like a new professional development or curriculum, and not just because they’ve spent more years in the classroom. These academics, John Papay and Matthew Kraft of Brown University, beg to differ.

Papay and Kraft analyze the econometric models used in previous studies and identify some biases that might have led to the findings. They also take another look at these existing models to tease out whether any growth in effectiveness is due to “year effects” (external forces) or “experience effects” (as suggested, time clocked in a classroom)—an issue of collinearity, for the statisticians in the audience.

Papay and Kraft’s conclusions read like Goldilocks. This one’s not just right because it assumes that returns to experience stop after 10 years, so it underestimates the effect of experience; this one’s not just right because it puts teachers into buckets of experience that are too wide, also underestimating effects; the third one’s off because it compares teachers who work continuously with teachers who take a year or more off from teaching and return, and ignores that these groups’ effectiveness might be quite a bit different.

The authors then offer their own model, but this too has some acknowledged problems. Their “two-stage” model proposes using teacher fixed effects (comparing each teacher to his/herself) to calculate returns to experience,but it assumes that novice teachers now entering the profession are about the same as novice teachers a decade ago, which is probably not the case, as different generations of teachers differ  in meaningful ways. Here though, their model finds that while teachers’ return to experience still slows after 5 years, it never flatlines completely—teachers continue to improve after more than a decade of teaching. 

Estimated productivity-experience profiles in mathematics using versions of the Censored Growth ModelIndicator Variable Model, and Two-Stage Model that they have tweaked to reduce sources of bias in each model

So is this study enough to upend prior assumptions about teacher improvement over time? Probably not. It's one study up against many and the results aren’t all statistically significant (for math, moderately significant only until the 15-year mark, and for reading, not significant for the past 5 years).

What would it take to get a model that is close to “just right”?  According to the Center for Education Data & Research’s director Dan Goldhaber, we’ll need patience, about 30 years with a large group of teachers who stay in the classroom that whole time and a solid data set with which to evaluate them. We're glad we already know that wine and a good book can age gracefully while we wait. 

 

Think we know what’s behind teachers’ job choices? Think again.

06/18/2015

As a group, teachers tend to defy the old adage “you can’t go home again,” usually taking jobs within 50 miles of where they went to high school and making that choice at a much higher rate than other professionals. A new study from John Krieg of Western Washington University, and Roddy Theobald and Dan Goldhaber, from the Center for Education Data & Research, may have turned up an even more powerful predictor of where teachers end up working than their home address: where they complete their student teaching.

Looking at where teachers end up working after finishing their preparation at one of six Washington universities, the location of the student teaching placement turned out to be a much stronger predictor of teachers’ first jobs than where they grew up or went to high school. This relationship held strong even when the researchers excluded teachers who were lucky enough to land a job where they student taught. Surprisingly, even teachers who completed their student teaching relatively far away from campus and/or home (though still in the state, an important caveat of this study) were more apt to land in the school district where they had student taught. 

This newly discovered relationship should grab the attention of school districts having a tough time finding new teachers.  By arranging student teaching partnerships with programs which may not even be anywhere nearby, districts might still be able create a stable and steady pipeline of new teachers.

The study also turned up some disquieting evidence of inequities, with more-qualified student teachers (as measured by student teachers’ GPAs and first-time scores on a credentialing test)  being placed disproportionately in more-advantaged schools—and therefore more likely to land their first job in those advantaged schools.

But let’s look at the bright side here. IF teacher prep programs more proactively placed the better student teachers in less advantaged schools, those teachers might be more likely to work in such schools. No new law or reg needed—just recognition by teacher prep of the importance of placing their superstars in the classrooms where they are needed the most. 

 

Spotlight on Nevada's Clark County Public Schools

05/21/2015

This year, Clark County School District in Las Vegas started the year in a pinch: district-wide, there were over 600 teaching vacancies and student enrollment continued to grow. In response, the district pulled out all the stops to recruit new teachers (see ads in airline magazines and a zip-lining superintendent) and is now rethinking how to deploy existing staff.

Taking lessons from Public Impact's Opportunity Culture program as well as other school districts and charter management organizations, Clark County is piloting two staffing models in which effective teachers take responsibility for an expanded group of students. They've launched a pilot program that includes a blended learning model and a "teaching and learning model" in which excellent teachers are responsible for their own classrooms as well as leading other teachers. Clark County School District is applying the same principle to their principals. Next year, two excellent principals will be leading two schools each in an effort to "franchise" their approach to leadership.

We expect that there will be tweaks to the models for both teachers and principals, but we applaud the Clark County School District's effort to take risks, try new ideas and learn from other systems. Watch this space in the coming months to see what we can learn from them.

 

Don't judge these teacher ed journals by their titles!

05/21/2015

Do teacher education journals seek to help teacher educators do a better job?

It seems like a fairly silly question. Nevertheless, we reviewed 10 prominent teacher ed journals and learned that, for the most part, they provide pretty weak gruel when it comes to publishing articles intended to build teacher skills.  They may dedicate quite a bit of content to how it feels to be in teacher prep or the characteristics of a good teacher–but in terms of getting down to the nitty gritty of developing essential skills, there's a notable vacuum. 

We started with abstracts from the last five years (2009-2014) for the Journal of Teacher Education, the most influential education journal focusing exclusively on teacher education.[1] Only 17 of the 153 articles in this period (11 percent) covered core techniques and skills (e.g.,The Effect of Content-Focused Coaching on the Quality of Classroom Text Discussions and Teacher Questioning to Elicit Students' Mathematical Thinking in Elementary School Classrooms).[2]

What kinds of articles fill the remaining publication space? 

The clear majority have nothing to do with teacher training, further evidence that the field of teacher education, writ large, eschews not only a 'training' role but, like many academic journals, avoids any topic which runs the risk of being classified as a "how-to manual" or even sensible guidance. There were a few articles (10 percent of the sample) dealing with skills that would be classified as important for a novice teacher to develop, but were not directly related to classroom instruction.

Here's a full categorization of all content, 79 percent of which avoids anything having to do with what some might see as the day-to-day work of the teacher educator:

We then expanded our search to review articles from nine other teacher ed journals, although we limited this search to only those articles published in the last two years.  Again, we found few instances of articles dedicated to building classroom skills. Five of the nine failed to publish a single such article.

Whether you agree or disagree with how we categorized the articles, the evidence is overwhelming that education journals are not pushing for, or focusing on, any research that might help teacher educators do a better job building the specific skills necessary to be a more effective instructor.

It's hard not to conclude a more troubling truth, that such research may not even exist–or else why wouldn't it be getting published? Speculation aside, it's clear that teacher educators can’t count on their professional publications to focus on increasing their knowledge about the nuts-and-bolts of successful preparation and teaching.



[1] A ranking of the 100 top journals in education research, including teacher education, puts the Journal of Teacher Education as the highest ranked (19th) in terms of its "five-year impact factor." The "five-year impact factor" is calculated on the basis of citation counts. Makel, M. C., & Plucker, J. A. (2014). Facts are more important than novelty: Replication in the Education Sciences. Educational Researcher, 20(10), 1-13.

[2] As troubling, even this group contains articles of uncertain value: Three of the 15 studies involve three or fewer subjects, designs that do not inspire confidence that results can inform best practice. We suspect that a full-scale review of methodologies of all 15 articles would reveal other weaknesses common to teacher prep research.

 

Sorting it out: What’s behind teacher tracking and sorting between and within schools

05/21/2015

Some students are more apt to be assigned better or more experienced teachers than other students. That's not news. Past studies have found that lower-income and minority students tend to be assigned to teachers with less experience than their peers.

A new study by Rebecca Wolf of SRI International plays this pattern out but goes a step further to see whether some schools or, more intriguingly, grades within schools get a larger share of novice teachers.

Wolf finds that the biggest apparent driver of differences in who gets the newest teachers within a school was the student's grade level—not whether students were high or low performing. While the level of student achievement played some role, the effect size was relatively quite small (students who scored basic on the state math test were about only one percent more likely to be taught by a new teacher than a higher-achieving student was). However, a 9th grade student was 10 percent more likely than a 12th grade student, regardless of her academic standing, to be taught by a novice math teacher. Sixth grade was the exception to this finding, with student achievement having a bigger impact than grade level. A low-achieving 6th grade student (the first grade of middle school for most schools in the district) was much more likely to have a novice teacher than other 6th grade students.

So why does assigning the newest teachers to the lowest grades in a school, especially to the lower-performing students in those grades, matter? The problem is that success in 6th and 9th grades, the years referred to as “transition grades,” has significant implications for students’ long-term educational attainment and engagement. Studies show that student experiences during these years have a relationship to drop-out and student achievement rates that can persist for years into students’ academic careers.

Wolf’s study may mean that principals should think twice about where they’re placing their newest teachers.

 

In the race for teacher quality, how much does teachers’ race matter?

05/21/2015

While the population of minority students in the US continues to grow, the number of minority teachers has not kept pace, in spite of the fact that the percentage of minority teachers has actually more than doubled since 1988 (a little known fact surfaced by Richard Ingersoll.) A new study from a group of researchers from Harvard, University of Arkansas and University of Colorado offers more evidence that the lack of minority teachers is hurting student achievement. It's a study that plays well and has gotten a lot of attention—but one whose findings should still be put in perspective.

The researchers took advantage of Florida's large dataset, finding some limited evidence that matching teacher race with student race can improve outcomes. In reading, for African American and white students, a .004 to .005 standard deviation bump in scores was achieved. In math, a slightly stronger effect size was picked up for not only African American and white students, but also Asian/Pacific Island students, who experienced a .007 to .041 standard deviation bump. (No effect was found for Hispanic students; but since the study did not control for assignment to ELL classes,  we think the lack of findings should be attributed to the methodology employed here, and not because Hispanic students don't actually benefit from having Hispanic teachers.)

As these results suggest, certainly having race-congruent teachers appears to nudge the needle on student achievement, but what gets overlooked is that other interventions can move it more. Here we compare the effect sizes of teachers of the same race as their students with the effect sizes of a few other interventions, mostly achieved when schools have altered the curriculum. 

It's hard not to notice that choosing a better math curriculum yields effects seven times greater (using the most conservative calculation) than matching teacher and student race.

Getting districts to embrace the importance of strong curriculum in an era of curricular indifference may be a fool's errand, but count us in.

 

Are big teacher shortages around the corner?

05/21/2015

Today, a test of your policy chops.

What do the following three statements have in common?

1.  It's been X years since A Nation at Risk and we still haven't solved [fill in blank];

2. The medical profession would always/never do [fill in blank]; why not the same for the teaching profession?

3. The sky is falling! Over the next X years, unprecedented numbers of teachers are quitting/retiring!  Who will replace them?

The answer: They each are about equally likely to be used in the opening paragraph of most teacher quality reports.

These statements are not just ubiquitous and unimaginative. They tend to play into our fears and biases.

Take teacher shortages. 

For as long as I can remember, we have been standing on a cliff about to fall off into a massive teacher shortage.

Don't get me wrong.  There are real shortages of ELL, special ed and secondary STEM teachers.  Some rural schools also face serious staffing problems—even when it comes to elementary teachers.

But the truth that the headlines bury is that we have been systematically overproducing teachers in most subject areas for years.  Here's some of the supply and demand data we have collected for the most recent year available (2012-13), comparing the number of elementary teachers who are prepared with how many are needed (for the full table, see here).

                                     

In the past few months, there have been new reports that there's a big drop in enrollments in teacher prep programs, causing a lot of people to worry that we won't be able to fully staff schools in a few years.  Nothing good happens when fear drives our decisions. In this case, institutions will be encouraged to keep admission standards low and states will toy with lowering the rigor of their licensing tests.

If government projections are even remotely accurate, the drop in teacher prep enrollment isn't likely to lead to general shortages, not at their current rates. Further, a decline is not necessarily a bad thing, provided it isn't the better prospective candidates who are making other career choices.  While universities might like the resulting tuition revenue, it's not healthy for a profession to systematically overproduce, and not only because it suppresses wages. 

The reality is that there is not going to be a single solution to real shortages.

For instance, teacher prep programs weren't attracting enough candidates for STEM or ELL or SPED even at the peak of their enrollments, so declining enrollments are not going to create a new problem and will hardly exacerbate an old one. 

When it comes to finding qualified STEM teachers, districts and states must be willing to pay some teachers a lot more than others, depending on the value of their skills in the marketplace, something which most have refused to do, at least in a meaningful way. Also, let's not discount the importance of removing those policies which discourage qualified persons from teaching, such as putting up roadblocks to people who have real content expertise but have not completed the state-mandated coursework or requiring any new teachers to start at the lowest step on the salary schedule no matter what their backgrounds. 

Special education and ELL shortages will only be solved when institutions start capping the number of candidates admitted to oversubscribed elementary programs and divert eager aspiring teachers to these areas—made all the more eager because their pay is also higher.

We know that the solution to the rural problem is not to double or triple the number of statewide candidates.  What have those practices gotten us? Just double or triple the number of candidates who still have no interest in living in a remote area.

The key to addressing rural shortages lies in increased investments in technology so districts can "pipe" in specialized teaching rather than trying to staff each position. And of course pay is a factor too. Forget those nominal stipends. We need to pay these teachers enough money to serve as a real incentive to relocate somewhere for a couple of years. The only other permanent fix to rural shortages is a common solution in other countries but probably a nonstarter here in the US: require all teachers to serve a few years in hardship areas.

Let's close as we opened:

1.  In the 32 years since A Nation at Risk, we've been unable to solve specialized shortages through generalized overproduction.

2.  The teaching profession would do well to take a page from the medical profession which consistently, systematically aligns supply with demand.

3.  And last but not least, let's remember that doomsayers have found it really hard to make the sky fall.

Let's show some imagination and courage as well, crafting real solutions to solve real problems.

 

Tune in to NCTQ (April 2015): Teacher prep

04/16/2015

The surprising news about Russ Whitehurst’s departure from Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy, a center he had ably led since 2009, has us scratching our heads as much as anyone else in the DC policy community.

As an organization, NCTQ is very grateful to Whitehurst for his continuing work on NCTQ's Audit Panel, where he’s helped make sure the ratings processes for the Teacher Prep Reviewmeet the highest standards. But of course his justly earned claim to fame is his having founded the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences. And it was as director there that he helped lay the intellectual foundation for far stronger teacher preparation and classroom instruction than we have today.

One of the main obstacles to improving teacher effectiveness has long been the meager research base on what teachers should be trainedto be able to do. The relative paucity of research in what works in teaching as compared to, for example, medicine, has paved the way for the field’s abdication of training altogether.

But while there remains much we do not know about what constitutes good teaching, there in fact is a core set of strategies, identified through high-quality research, that every teacher should master. Russ had the IES assemble and pressure-test this research, and then put out highly readable practice guides highlighting the teaching strategies that have the greatest demonstrated impact. Thanks to him, teaching and teacher prep now have some of the blocks around which the profession could be built.

Unfortunately, as we’ve found in our own past research on training in classroom management and our upcoming report on the fundamentals of instruction, these practice guides have gone largely ignored by teacher educators. But by publicly rating programs on how well they train teachers to use the strategies in the practice guides, we aim to draw the field’s attention back to the strong research contained in the practice guides and firmly ensconce Whitehurst’s legacy in the training of new teachers.

 

Tune in to NCTQ (April 2015): District policy

04/16/2015

Given the general direction of federal and state policy over the past few years, one could easily think most large districts include, or have set plans to include, some measure of student growth in teacher evaluations. But, as our latest Teacher Trendline shows, 28 percent of districts in NCTQ’s Teacher Contract Database still do not include such measures.

When it comes to evaluation frequency, the majority of districts in our database do evaluate all their teachers annually, both tenured and non-tenured. Nearly 77 percent of districts evaluate non-tenured teachers once a year. Clark County (NV) stands out, formally evaluating non-tenured teachers three times a year. Far fewer districts (54 percent) evaluate tenured teachers annually. Nearly a quarter only do so once every three years. Worse, in five California districts—FresnoLong BeachLos AngelesSacramento and San Diego, teachers are only evaluated only once every five years after they've taught ten years.

Read more about teacher evaluation trends across the districts in our Teacher Contract database, here.

 

Tune in to NCTQ (April 2015): State Policy

04/16/2015

For as long as NCTQ has been tracking teacher policy, states have overwhelmingly set a lower bar for licensing new special education teachers. This is especially troubling now, as most special education students are expected to meet new college- and career-readiness standards.

Consider this: 35 states still offer or exclusively grant K-12 special education teacher licenses, sending an unequivocal message that the content knowledge and pedagogy needed for an elementary and secondary special education classroom are interchangeable. Just 15 states require special education teachers to even pass a content knowledge test.

Of the 18 states that require general ed elementary teacher candidates to pass an adequate test of the science of reading, only 11 also require special education teachers at the elementary level to pass the same test. Considering that reading difficulties are the primary reason for referrals to special education, the absence of a requirement should trip some alarms. The remaining seven states, Alabama, Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Ohio, all need to close this loophole.

There are notable exceptions. New York, in particular, stands out. In addition to requiring special education teachers to pass content tests that appear to be as rigorous as what is required of other teachers, New York is the only state that requires secondary special education teachers to demonstrate content knowledge in all subjects they are licensed to teach.

 

The Good Behavior Game

04/16/2015

As I think about my career plans for next year when I will begin work as a first-year high school math teacher, I am both excited and nervous about taking on teaching's many demands. Managing a classroom full of twenty students will be a challenge which I would like to prepare for as much as possible. So when I was asked to research a classroom management strategy for NCTQ, I jumped at the opportunity.

During my research, I came to learn of a classroom management strategy called the Good Behavior Game (GBG); it was developed in 1967 by a novice fourth grade teacher named Muriel Saunders. The GBG creates a functional, engaged classroom by rewarding groups that best exhibit defined behaviors, such as following classroom rules. 

Education is a field in which only one in 1,000 studies is replicated even once (Makel and Plucker). In contrast, the effects of the GBG have been replicated in over 50 studies between 1969 and 2015. Each study has proven the GBG’s effectiveness in reducing disruptive behaviors in pre-K through 12th grade and in producing longer-term positive effects on academic performance.

After doing my own research on the GBG, I set off to determine how many of my future colleagues will likely have learned about the strategy as they enter classrooms around the country. The results were surprising. Of the 12 classroom management textbooks evaluated in NCTQ’s classroom management report, including popular texts such as Marzano’s Classroom Management that Works and Wong’s The First Days of School, not a single one mentioned the Good Behavior Game.

While I didn’t have ready access to a larger sample of textbooks, I was able to estimate that approximately two percent of teacher candidates are exposed to the GBG in their preparation courses. To arrive at this estimate, I looked through all of the citations of Barrish (the seminal study of the GBG) to find 16 classroom management textbooks published in the last 10 years which reference the GBG. I then developed an inventory of the textbooks used in 90 classroom management courses. Of those 90 courses, only two use one of those 16 textbooks.

Why is the GBG ignored in teacher prep when classroom management is so critically important for novice teachers? NCTQ’s classroom management reportprovides a full discussion, but in short, teacher educators promote engagement as the be-all and end-all of classroom management. Approaches that rely on behaviorist principles—such as the positive reinforcement at the heart of the GBG—are belittled or ignored.

How wrong is it to deprive new teachers of an approach that can allow them to be more effective instructors and their students to be more successful learners? The Good Behavior Game is a useful, research-driven strategy that I am fortunate to have learned before beginning my future teaching career. The fact that so many of my peers will not have had the same opportunity is an embarrassment for the field of teacher prep. Perhaps more programs will benefit by adding this useful strategy in their preparation curriculum.

 

When it comes to teachers understanding fractions, it is a small world after all

04/16/2015

As scarce as international studies on teaching generally are, we were glad to see two new studies looking at what it takes to be a successful math teacher. Both provide more evidence that there are two distinct types of knowledge relevant to teaching mathematics: content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge. The former is self-evident; the latter involves the capacity to understand possible student misconceptions, to recognize alternative problem-solving approaches, and so on. 

One study looks at teachers in Belgium (Teachers' content and pedagogical content knowledge on rational numbers: A comparison of prospective elementary and lower secondary school teachers) while the other focuses on teachers in Taiwan and Germany (Content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge in Taiwanese and German mathematics teachers). The studies share a few common and not wholly surprising findings:

The two types of knowledge are definitely different and, fortunately, both can be measured.

The fact that secondary teachers have greater content knowledge than lower level teachers doesn't always imply that they have greater pedagogical content knowledge.

Frankly, the most interesting piece of information in the two articles is how poorly Belgium's elementary and lower secondary teachers performed on a test of pedagogical content knowledge involving fraction problems (even though Belgian students outperform ours both as 9-year olds and 15- year olds). It's well established that American elementary and middle school teachers are relatively weak in math, but it's an eye opener to see that on a math problem involving division by a fraction, 86 percent of teachers in higher-ranked Belgium were incorrect.

In any case, this revelation of the difficulty elementary and middle school teachers have with fractions no matter what side of the pond they're on poses an excellent opportunity to show very graphically the difference between two elementary math textbooks we've evaluated and how each takes a very different approach to developing both content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge.

First a bit of math on the topic of division by a fraction: Teachers should most definitely not reinforce the idea that the basis for this operation is a mystery. ("Ours is not to wonder why, just invert and multiply!")  A good teacher can demonstrate the two types of situations modeled by this equation:

In the first situation, we're finding out how many quantities of 1/4th are in 1/2 (there are 2);  in the second situation, we're finding out that if we did 1/4th of a job with 1/2 of a quantity, it will take 2 of the quantity to complete the job.

(Keep reading.  No one said this was easy!)

Here's how a textbook to which we gave a low score (Mathematics for Elementary School Teachers, Bassarear, 5th ed.) presents this topic on p. 280: There's half a page of discussion that draws on the use of the multiplicative inverse in an abstract way and provides no explanatory graphic. In fact, the author explains, "Unlike most of the other algorithms we have examined, [the invert-and-multiply algorithm] does not lend itself to a diagrammatic representation."

Here's the final part of the explanation offered:

Good thing that Sybilla Beckmann (author of a textbook to which we gave a high score, Mathematics for Elementary Teachers with Activities, 4th ed.) wasn't paying attention to that conclusion. She provides three pages of discussion demonstrating both types of situation described above, with no fewer than four explanatory graphics—exactly the types of graphics elementary teachers can use in their own instruction.

Here's one of the graphics (and the full discussion can be found here): 

The quality of textbooks in both elementary math and early reading prep vary dramatically. Since our first reports on the preparation of elementary teachers in math and reading, we've invested a lot in textbook reviews (analyzing the several dozen elementary math textbooks and close to 1,000 early reading textbooks). Ratings are based on extensive textbook reviews done by experts; in the case of math textbooks, reviews are done by mathematicians well versed in the art of teaching mathematically-skittish elementary teacher candidates. We've posted both the math and reading textbook reviews; doing more to ensure that teacher prep instructors hear about these evaluations the next time they choose a textbook for their course is critical.

 

They may be twin studies but their results sure aren't identical

04/16/2015

We were heartened to find not one–but two–education studies this month using data gleaned from twins to answer research questions about teacher quality and classroom performance. This is a novel approach for education research, although it’s quite common in other kinds of social science research. The working theory is plausible (though not foolproof): by comparing how twins perform under different teachers, researchers can pull out real differences attributable to schools and not students' backgrounds.

Netherlands studytakes advantage of a policy in Dutch schools where twins are always assigned to different classrooms to examine the impact of teacher experience on student achievement. Researchers were able to compare the academic outcomes for 495 twin sets in grades 2, 4, 6 and 8. 

Early in their schooling, twins’ scores in grade 2 show meaningful (and statistically significant) differences based on the experience of their teachers. For each additional year of experience one twin's teacher had over the other's, there was about 1.5 percent of a standard deviation's growth; that may  sound small, but over time that difference adds up. 

The researchers think that an examination of twins' performance is an especially robust idea for early grades because there’s little chance that students would have been sorted into classes based on their academic abilities at so young an age.

That might explain why in higher grades, the impact of teacher experience decreases: the effect on students in grades 4 and 6 is only found in reading and all gains due to teachers’ years of experience disappear in grade 8.

The most interesting finding here may be that there was no evidence of the 'plateau effect' from experience that American studies frequently find at about year five in a teacher's career. Rather, the effect of experience found in this study is linear, meaning that a 20-year veteran is consistently more effective than a 15-year veteran who is consistently more effective than a 10-year veteran, and so on.

Back in the U.S., another twin study also looks at the relationship between teacher characteristics and student outcomes. The research considers master’s degrees (where no relationship with student outcomes has ever been soundly documented), national board certification (where a relationship has been found that correlates with increased student outcomes) and teacher experience. Of the three factors, teacher experience seemed to be the teacher characteristic most strongly related to student outcomes. Unlike the Netherlands study, though, the effect of a teacher working longer tapers off, as almost every American study has shown, after about a five-year career.

 

Myth Busters: Scholar asserts reports on American teachers' teaching time are grossly exaggerated

04/16/2015

The myth: U.S. teachers spend upwards of 50 percent more time in front of their students than teachers in other countries (see more examples of this myth here, here and here).

The reality: They don’t. A new studydigs into why survey data incorrectly suggest that our teachers spend so much more time teaching a classroom of students (as opposed to other kinds of activities such as  planning, classroom duty and tutoring students, which are counted separately) than teachers in other countries.

The graph above depicts teachers’ responses to the survey question used to gather U.S. data on teaching time–notice a pattern?

The question intends for teachers to add up how much time they spend teaching each week and then round to the nearest hour. The responses spike at intervals of five, suggesting that teachers estimated the amount of time they teach each day to the nearest hour and multiplied by five (for the five instructional days in the week), leading to an inflated amount of teaching time.

For example, teachers who teach five 45-minute classes a day should have reported 19 hours of teaching per week, but instead reported 25 hours, rounding a 45-minute period to an hour.

This error of rounding seems to explain why, year after year, the OECD’s Education at a Glance reports that U.S. teachers spend significantly more time in front of their classrooms than do teachers in other countries.

Another reason to suspect the reported amount of teaching time is inflated? About a quarter of the survey respondents reported teaching their students more hours than the length of the school day itself.

 

Our worry is spelled FERPA, not ESEA

04/16/2015

The lack of a major new teacher-related initiative in the Alexander-Murray ESEA draft doesn’t have us especially worked up. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that NCLB’s highly qualified teacher (HQT) provisions are nowhere to be found in the Senate draft, which does include some nods to—but no requirements around—teacher effectiveness.

HQT has been on a slow path to ignominy, with many viewing its focus on teacher qualifications over performance to be an anachronism. But HQT deserves much credit for shining a spotlight on teachers’ need for subject-matter knowledge. As a result, content tests are now a standard part of teacher licensure and out-of-field teaching is much less common

All but four states now require all elementary teachers to pass a content test as a condition of initial licensure. Forty-three states require content tests for secondary teachers, and every state now requires secondary teachers to have a major in their subject area. Just 24 states required majors for secondary teachers in 2001 before the passage of NCLB, and only 13 did in 1991.

Call us optimists, but we believe content testing is now so fully ingrained in the certification process that states don’t need federal carrots or sticks to make sure teachers know the subjects they are licensed to teach. As for the very few holdouts, if the feds didn’t force compliance in the last dozen years, why would anything change now? 

On another TQ front, we weren’t expecting to see a teacher evaluation mandate, but we’re also not shedding any tears over its exclusion. This is another place where states have come a long way over the life of NCLB. Actual state policy that requires annual evaluations and evidence of student learning is preferable to vague promises to the feds any day.

We were pleasantly surprised to see a little gem that limits the use of Title II Part A funds for class-size reduction to “evidence-based levels.” With so much of this funding currently supporting small reductions that, according to research, make no difference in student outcomes, this nugget could dramatically change how districts use these dollars.

With the House not sharing the Senate’s bipartisan approach to reauthorization, the path forward for ESEA is far from clear. But another bill may have a greater chance at moving soon, and this one—FERPA—has us truly worried.

FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act that gives parents protections over their children’s educational records. With so much focus on data leaks and privacy rights, it’s not surprising that a FERPA overhaul would be on Congress’ agenda.

Data privacy is not really in NCTQ’s wheelhouse, and parents are certainly entitled to know that information about their children is safeguarded. We’ll leave it to those with privacy expertise to talk more about that.

What has us so concerned are provisions in the draft currently circulating that would allow parent opt-out of any use of student data by a third party. By our read, this could not only devastate educational researchers’ access to student information, but could also wreak havoc on the use of performance data for accountability purposes, if the state or district contracts any of that analysis to a third party.

How will we put stock in any research study when we won’t know if the results are skewed due to the exclusion of students whose parents opted out? How will we know that school accountability or teacher evaluation results are representative and accurate?

Surely, we can protect parents and children without sacrificing our accountability mechanisms and important research.

Are you worried, too? Let your friends on the Hill know.

 

Teacher prep from one teacher candidate's perspective

02/19/2015

After interning at the National Council on Teacher Quality for a mere two weeks, I became acutely aware of how little I knew about teacher preparation. As someone who wants to be a teacher and has (or so I thought) done quite a bit of research about preparation, I was startled by the gaps in my knowledge. After reflecting, I believe that this resulted from a combination of factors: the first, that I attend a small elite liberal arts college, and the second, that I want to eventually be an elementary teacher. These factors shaped the way that I looked at teacher preparation and meant that I simply did not know the information about teacher prep that NCTQ has to offer in the Teacher Prep Review.

Let’s start with how my college affected my thinking. Carleton, like many highly selective liberal arts colleges, prides itself on its elite status. Drawn to prestige, students of these colleges often overlook programs that do not carry immediate name recognition. Around campus, saying you’re attending a graduate teacher prep program just doesn’t carry the same weight as law school or med school. The elite mindset that we carry renders us pretty oblivious to the very valuable information NCTQ produces about graduate teacher preparation schools.

In addition to that, because I want to be an elementary teacher, I know firsthand that this area is too often neglected at college campuses across the country; most liberal arts colleges’ licensure programs only focus on secondary education. Of the top 10 liberal arts colleges as rated by US News, six have some sort of undergraduate licensure program. That’s not too bad but only two have an elementary education option. Additionally, the majority of these programs require advanced planning, beginning during sophomore year, which ultimately rules out people who only realize late in their college career that they might want to teach.

Where I see NCTQ’s work making an impact on the thinking of students like me is through professors. The elite attitude of campuses like Carleton means that we are well exposed to highly selective programs, like Teach For America (TFA) or Boston Teacher Residency (BTR). These programs recruit on campus and are well known by professors. The visibility of these programs persuades applicants. If professors utilized NCTQ’s Teacher Prep Review, they would be able to give more concrete advice about graduate education and perhaps this would make a difference in students’ mindsets.

I wish there were an easy solution to this problem—a way to alert education faculty at elite liberal arts institutions to the gap in knowledge that students have about teacher prep. Students should not feel that TFA or BTR are the only options out there. Information needs to be provided from sources such as NCTQ to fill in the blanks and help guide students towards the best post-grad options for them. Many students like me would be eager and grateful for this information.

 

Know any aspiring teachers? Send them a copy of this book ASAP

02/19/2015

When I was in college, several of my courses required the purchase of what the professors indicated were canonical texts. Calculus required Apostol's Calculus Volumes 1 and 2. Electricity and magnetism used Jackson's Classical Electrodynamics. Computer science used Sedgewick's Algorithms

In the field of teacher pre-service training, Doug Lemov's Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that put Students on the Path to College (TLAC) should have similar stature.

Lemov and his team have built a taxonomy of champion classroom practices by carefully observing (and recording) real teachers who regularly achieve outstanding results for their students. A significant update to the first edition (which we reviewed in 2010), TLAC 2.0’s revisions and organization—grouping the techniques into four main classroom focus areas—challenge the (uncharitable) opinion that it represents nothing more than a “bag of tricks.” It's true that Lemov has a bias to action: he introduces the text stating he “(has) tried to describe the techniques of champion teachers in a concrete, specific, and actionable way” with a focus on next-day implementation.  And it's true that 62 techniques are detailed in the text. But these techniques represent an early, on-going effort to define, illustrate and develop the fundamentals of effective classroom instruction. Rather than a “bag of tricks,” these are foundational skills, much like arithmetic is a necessary precursor to algebra. 

An example is illustrative. Check for understanding was a single technique in the first edition; it's now a critical area encompassing two chapters of the book (collecting data on mastery and acting on the data/establishing a culture of error) and ten separate techniques. One of those techniques—plan for error—outlines specific planning a teacher can undertake in anticipating and correcting student misunderstandings during instruction and practice. For example, in planning for a lesson on the slope-intercept form of equations, a teacher (in this case, Bryan Belanger from Troy Prep Middle School) included more than 50 practice problems of increasing complexity: more than any class could get through in a period. However, the expectation was not that any single class would be able to get through them; rather, after teaching, Bryan would give problems to the class as practice and decide to skip ahead or loop back in the list of problems depending on his observations of his students.

Lemov's description of planning for error includes two more ways of doing so: planning for specific errors (that is, thinking through the most obvious misapprehensions for the most important points of a lesson and specifically figuring out, beforehand, how you would respond) and planning re-teach time (that is, setting aside blocks of time to loop back to areas where your students are struggling or, happily, move ahead if there are no such barriers to understanding).

The book also clearly mirrors the respect and admiration Lemov has for the teachers he has observed and with whom he has collaborated. This is not the work of an academic isolated from practice; this is the work of someone with a deep respect of practice and practitioners, a work written about, by and for them.

It is telling that we found the first edition of Teach Like a Champion in the classroom management courses in 7 of 122 programs in our 2013 report on classroom management .  To be clear — that's not a commentary on the text; rather, it's an indictment of a field that avoids the creation of a coherent theory of instruction, favoring instead the idea that each teacher must find her own way with her particular students.

 

By our powers combined…

02/19/2015

Sometimes there just aren’t enough great teachers to go around.

Placing two, even three student teachers in a single classroom is one way that teacher prep programs are working around shortages of qualified cooperating teachers.

But is this a good idea?

We thought we might gain insight into the merits of this relatively new practice from a recent study, which we won't name for reasons that will become quickly apparent. We assumed it would investigate whether "paired placements" (two student teachers in a single classroom) lead to demonstrable gains (or losses) in candidate skills. Apparently, as we too often discover in education research, what piques our interest bears no relation to teacher education's interest.  

So why write about it here? Because it reveals a lot about the current priorities in teacher education and helps to illustrate the deep divide between the issues which concern P-12 educators and the issues which concern teacher educators. Apparently, we can't even agree on the questions we should be asking, let alone the answers.

Rather than characterizing student teaching as an opportunity for an inexperienced teacher candidate to learn from a pro, the article promotes the perspective that such "hierarchical dispensation of wisdom" is less valuable than "shared inquiries" of the student teacher and mentor – meaning that the student teacher is there to both learn from and teach the mentor teacher. Apparently, the authors thought that when a cooperating teacher is up against not one but two student teachers, she might be more amenable to let the students be the teachers.

The author's interviews with the student teachers and mentor teachers in the study lead the author to three conclusions which we translate here.

The report laments that unless mentors are willing to "challenge orthodoxies" (specifically, their own beliefs), they are able to resist the ideas of any number of student teachers. To which we respond, providing that mentors are effective teachers, shouldn't student teachers believe that the purpose of the placement is to absorb instructional practices, not to challenge them? To practice and get feedback, however painful it may be, from an expert and not just a peer?

(Note that because our comments pertain to the field and not the article or author, we haven't identified either.)

 

Breaking through the teacher performance plateau

02/19/2015

Can schools make teachers more effective? In thinking about that question, your mind probably goes to professional development or other training activities. But Matthew Kraft and John Papay from Brown University took that query in a different direction, looking at whether differences in school settings make teachers more or less effective. 

Combining student achievement data with teachers’ responses to North Carolina’s biannual survey of working conditions, Kraft and Papay investigated if teachers who worked in higher-rated Charlotte-Mecklenberg schools could overcome the well-established pattern of poor returns to teaching experience—findings repeatedly showing that growth in teacher effectiveness is limited largely to the first few years of teaching.

And guess what? Working conditions do matter—at least in the Charlotte-Mecklenbergschool district.  It stands to reason that teachers will continue to grow and get increasingly effective in orderly buildings with strong leadership and collaborative environments.

But it’s the magnitude of the difference that is the real eye-opener. By the end of the first 10 years of a teacher’s career, there's a 38 percent gap in student achievement between a teacher at a highly-rated school and a teacher at a low-rated school.

Unfortunately, the study doesn’t shed any light on just what the ‘secret sauce’ is in the highly-rated schools, the qualities about these schools that somehow make it easier for teachers to continue to grow. The results were based on composite ratings; the specifics of the working conditions as captured in the survey didn’t seem to matter. And we can’t help but wonder which is the chicken and which is the egg: Do the working conditions help teachers get better or does the presence of more effective teachers impact the professional environment?

Furthermore, would these results hold in another district, given that Charlotte-Mecklenburg is well known for its turnaround efforts that have moved effective leaders and teachers into high-needs schools? 

Another recent study makes us think maybe not. 

Zeyu Xu, Umut Özek and Michael Hansen from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) looked at the effectiveness of teachers who work in high-poverty schools versus those in low-poverty schools (working paper available here).  Tracking the performance of 4th and 5th grade elementary teachers in North Carolina and Florida at intervals over ten years, they found no systematic relationship between schools’ poverty status and teacher performance. 

Of course, poverty is a very imperfect proxy for the working conditions explored by Kraft and Papay above; there are no doubt high-needs schools that would score well on a teacher survey and lower-needs schools that teachers would rate poorly. But were Kraft and Papay’s findings to be generalizable, we’d expect to see some sort of relationship in the AIR study. 

It just may be that the secret sauce is a Charlotte-Mecklenburg local recipe, but one certainly meriting a closer look.

 

Doing the Math on Teacher Pensions

02/19/2015

Just do the math and it is clear that things don’t add up for teacher pension policies. NCTQ calculates that state teacher pension systems are a half trillion dollars in debt for 2014. Across the states, an average of 70 cents of every dollar contributed to state teacher pension systems goes to ever-increasing unfunded pension liabilities – and not to teachers’ future retirement benefits.

Further, 38 states continue to cling to defined benefit pension systems that have become increasingly inflexible and unfair to teachers.

In our new report, Doing the Math on Teacher Pensions: How to Protect Teachers and Taxpayers, NCTQ provides report cards on teacher pension policies for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. We challenge the claims of pension boards and other defenders of the status quo about the cost-effectiveness, fairness and flexibility of the traditional teacher pension plan.

Overall, states earned a C- grade for teacher pension policies. Alaska earned an A for providing teachers with a fully portable retirement plan similar to a 401(k) as is commonplace in other professions. Five other states—Florida, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina and Utah—offer teachers the option of a defined contribution plan.  But offering a defined contribution plan is not a prerequisite for a high grade.  South Dakota earned a B+ for a defined benefit plan that provides portability and flexibility, while maintaining a healthy funding level.

In fact, we find that only nine states have well-funded teacher pension systems, and even some of these may not be as well-funded as they appear. State efforts to improve the fiscal health of their pension systems have generally been at teachers’ expense. Since 2008, more than half of the states have increased the amount teachers must contribute. To make matters worse, many states are also making it harder for teachers to receive benefits. Nationwide, fewer than half of teachers stay long enough in the state and districts where they teach to become eligible for retirement benefits. And 15 states make teachers wait 10 years to vest into their pension systems, resulting in too many teachers being cheated out of the opportunity to build an adequate retirement nest egg.

To learn more, download the report, see your state’s report card, or search our dashboard.

 

Boston Public Schools making strides in human capital policies

01/22/2015

Way back in 2010, NCTQ released Human Capital in Boston Public Schools: Rethinking How to Attract, Develop and Retain Effective Teachers in partnership with the Massachusetts Alliance for Business Education. The typical life span of such a report might be about a year or two— yet five years later, we're learning it still has considerable legs, largely due to the leadership of Boston's top-notch interim superintendent, John McDonough

While the report found many strengths in the district, it raised real concerns about such areas as teacher evaluations and transfer and hiring processes. Evaluations were inconsistent and the district's professional development was not aligned with evaluation outcomes. In 2012-2013, Boston not only revised the instrument (which every school district loves to do) but also the training and the frequency of evaluations. In the first year of the new system, 93 percent of teachers received an evaluation compared to less than 23 percent in 2009. The district continues to analyze patterns in evaluation outcomes and provide more support where needed, refining the system each year.

 The district didn't stop there. It no longer requires principals to hire teachers who have transferred from other schools, giving principals the autonomy to hire teachers they believe will best serve students. Excessed teachers who don’t find a position are given a coach and assigned to a co-teaching position with an exemplary teacher in a high-performing school. The roughly $6 million required to pay for these teachers is considered part of the cost of doing business.

In addition, Boston now has a goal of hiring 75 percent of its new teachers in March and April, rather than hiring the bulk of new teachers in the summer months. This earlier hiring timeline gives the district access to a larger group of prospective teachers in a particularly competitive hiring environment and allows them to hire highly-sought-after candidates before other districts. In 2013, Boston hired just 9 percent of teachers by the end of June. For the 2014-2015 school year, the district reports hiring 83 percent of new teachers before July 1. In addition, they report that early hiring has allowed them to employ the most racially diverse cohort of effective educators in more than six years.

This winter, the district worked with the Boston Teachers Union to reach an agreement to extend the school day by 40 minutes, giving both teachers and students more time and putting another NCTQ recommendation into place. In addition to providing students the equivalent of an additional month of school, the extra time nearly doubles the amount of planning and development time available to teachers.

Boston, you are making us proud. 

 

Hypothesis Testing…and testing…and testing

01/22/2015

Do higher scoring students get assigned higher value-added teachers? Maybe— but more work is needed to really tell.

Early in 2014, ChettyFriedman and Rockoff published a study based on New York City data that found that value-added (VA) models which control for the previous years' test scores can accurately predict teacher impacts on current year student test scores. Along the way, the team demonstrated the viability of a quasi-experimental design that most districts— with student test and teacher assignment data— could use to validate district VA calculations.

In the past several months, two studies have replicated the Chetty et. al.'s methodology and key results in two different samples: a study using data from Los Angeles by Bacher-Hicks, Kane and Staiger and one using data from North Carolina by Jesse Rothstein, who has been academia's most vocal critic of value-add methodologies.

Following the specifications and techniques of the original paper, the two newer papers find little evidence of bias in teacher VA measures (with the typical controls) and show that there are differences in teacher VA across students and schools.

All three studies found a significant, positive relationship between a student's prior year test score and teacher VA. In other words, higher-scoring students do get assigned to high VA teachers, on average, with only some disagreement over what happens to special education students.

Rothstein (North Carolina) found that minority students (Black or Hispanic) and schools with higher fractions of minority students have higher VA teachers, on average.  Chetty et al. (New York City) found no such relationships. Bacher-Hicks et al. (Los Angeles) found significantly negative relationships at the student and school levels for African-American and Hispanic students. In other words, in Los Angeles, African-American or Hispanic students or schools with higher fractions of these students have teachers with lower VA, on average.

A key benefit of replicating research (which happens much too rarely in education research) is that in addition to comparing results in different locales, researchers can identify potential weaknesses in a study’s design. While Rothstein replicated the Chetty et al.'s results using their techniques and specifications, he also went on to demonstrate two potential flaws that should be the subject of future work: (a) the results change depending on how one makes up for missing classroom or teacher data; and (b) the "random" teacher moves— from classroom to classroom or school to school— required for the quasi-experiment's validity are not so random after all. Taking these into account, he finds significant bias in teacher value-added calculations: for some teachers, the models predict better performance, on average, than they should, while for other teachers, the models go the other way.

What’s the bottom line of these studies? There seems to be clear evidence that in New York City, Los Angeles and North Carolina, higher-scoring students are assigned to higher VA teachers, on average. There is significant variation across the three jurisdictions in the relationships between a student's special education or minority status and average teacher VA scores. Finally, Rothstein raises significant questions about validity with respect to resolving missing data and the independence of teacher turnover. All of these require further hypothesis testing— and more replication studies.

 

How one district streamlined and bolstered new teacher hiring

01/22/2015

Every district HR department looks to find ways to limit the number of time-consuming interviews of new teacher applicants. A few weeks ago, Politico ran a story about "Big Data" tools designed to give districts a better idea of who is "interview worthy" based on the perceived skills of candidates (e.g., Teacher Match) and next gen versions of the old school questionnaires that attempt to elicit the "attitudes" of teacher applicants (e.g., Gallup’s TeacherInsight Assessment and the Haberman Star Teacher).

An encouraging new study from Dan Goldhaber and colleagues examines the Spokane School District's home-grown, skills-based screening process. It argues that by using a two-stage evaluation process that relies heavily on data generated from letters of recommendation, principals are able to limit precious interview time to only higher-caliber applicants, resulting in better hiring.

                  

The process seems to be working: scores on the second stage of the pre-interview screening positively (and with statistical significance) predict value-added measures of effectiveness. Also, teachers hired by Spokane School District showed higher rates of retention as opposed to those not hired by Spokane who were teaching elsewhere in Washington State.

Ratings on applicants' classroom management skills stand out as having the most predictive power, piquing our interest in what exactly Spokane principal/supervisor screeners are looking for in applicants with regards to classroom management. The bottom line: even though the district's rubric related to classroom management is fairly cryptic (i.e., "effective[ly] handl[e]... large/small, ethnically/sociologically diverse groups"), it appears that screeners are still able to zero in on enough in the letters of recommendation to identify candidates who are most likely to be effective.

Given how unsystematic Spokane's protocol appears to be— screeners receive no training on how to apply the rubric—it probably helps that 71 percent of hired teachers have had some previous experience in Spokane as an employee, a student teacher or both; the study's authors note that "screeners may be familiar with those who are writing the letters of recommendation."

We have one minor quibble. We wonder how much better Spokane could do in hiring if it tightened up the protocol for evaluating classroom management skills and used more structured interviews to evaluate applicants.

 

The push and tug of pay versus benefits

01/22/2015

When it comes to their pay and benefits, will teachers always go with the bird in the hand no matter how many birds may be in the bush?

Apparently that is the case in Illinois, where teachers proved remarkably immune to a pretty generous pension deal, as documented in a new study by Maria Donovan Fitzpatrick. While previous research has shown that all workers, not just teachers, have a clear preference for a higher paycheck over the opportunity for greater retirement benefits, Fitzpatrick provides striking new evidence of just how little of their paychecks teachers are willing  (or able) to redirect in order to achieve greater pension wealth. 

Back in 1998, Illinois gave teachers the opportunity to upgrade their defined benefit plans and purchase extra retirement benefits. At most, teachers were only willing to redirect 21 cents of their current salaries for every dollar they would receive later.

Even more noteworthy, Fitzpatrick’s estimations may still not paint an accurate picture of just how little teachers are willing to invest: she focused on Illinois Public School (IPS) employees with 22-28 years of experience. These veterans would not have to wait very long to receive the extra benefits, so one might have reasonably assumed that they were a lot more mindful about their pensions than the average recent college grad. While ability to pay is a real concern, teachers in the sample were already likely earning salaries on the higher end of the pay scale and were given five years to pay for the upgrade. What’s more, they were well-informed of the costs AND benefits of upgrading, and the Illinois pension system was well-funded at the time (so Doomsday scenarios that the system would be bankrupt by the time they retired were less likely).

While this may be a classic example of "irrational default behavior," (going with a default decision even if a different option may be in one’s best interest), the findings still provide strong evidence for states to consider as they tackle pension reform. In debates around pension reform, one of the running themes is just how satisfied teachers are with the status quo. Yet if teachers really do put a higher priority on what’s in their wallet today over tomorrow, that’s evidence of a preference that’s actually at odds with the current system—one which decidedly  tilts  towards tomorrow. 

For more on teacher pensions, NCTQ will be out with its latest analysis of state teacher retirement policies on January 27.

 

Harder work, higher earnings?

01/22/2015

An NCTQ follower on Twitter, @mescamilla1980, recently challenged our take on what's behind the disproportionately high grades earned by teacher candidates, suggesting that only those majors which will lead to highly paid jobs can require a lot of challenging work. At least that's what we think he was intimating – 140 characters leave little room for nuance. While a cynical hypothesis, it's a fair one. Is there a relationship between working hard in college and earning higher future pay?

To get some idea of the answer, we reached back into our dataset of 40 institutions for which we have identified which majors were consistently the hardest or easiest.

Looking at the five majors with the lowest proportions of students earning honors – that is, the hardest majors on their campuses— we learn that @mescamilla1980’s theory is, thank goodness, off base.

As shown below, some of the majors that top the list are in fact likely to lead to higher salaries. For example, marketing majors can expect mid-career earnings around $80,000, information systems majors – about $87,000, and computer science majors – just over $100,000. However, no one would expect to make big bucks by turning to some of these other majors: Art? History? (For salary data on more majors, see here).


                                      

We did not find teacher prep to be among the top five toughest majors at any of the 40 institutions. Only one institution, University of Maryland College Park, came close, with teacher prep coming in at 8th most difficult major on that campus. We hope to soon see more appearances of teacher prep on the “toughest majors” list. As the presence of some other majors on the list proves, lower pay doesn’t have to mean easier coursework. Still, seeing education majors move up the salary rankings might make tougher coursework more palatable.

 

Incoherent by design

01/22/2015

When we first began analyzing teacher prep programs for the Teacher Prep Review, we were surprised to find some really big differences in how well programs housed on the same campus did on NCTQ's standards. An undergraduate program might score quite high while the same ed school's graduate program got a low score.

We decided to back out our standards and simply tally what teacher prep programs are actually teaching. No value judgments. No commentary. No rankings. Just the bare facts.

What are the topics covered by teacher preparation programs and in what span of coursework?

Apparently each can be up for grabs in elementary programs—even when talking about undergraduate and graduate programs housed in the same ed school on the same university campus.

In a new NCTQ brief, Incoherent by Design: What you should know about differences between undergraduate and graduate training of elementary teachers, we quantify the fundamentally chaotic nature of elementary teacher prep for initial certification, which is by far the most popular choice of individuals who consider teaching.

For example, at DePaul University (IL), the graduate elementary program requires 56 credits and the undergraduate program requires 69 credits, almost a quarter more. Moreover, courses (or large parts of courses) in the undergraduate program pertain to five topics not apparent in graduate program coursework (children's literature, classroom management, special education, health, and elementary math content), whereas the graduate program requires a research course.

What explains the divergence? There are a number of reasons, but we believe that foremost is teacher educators' focus on development of a professional identity and a capacity for lifelong professional learning centered on self-reflective practice. Unlike training on defined content and skills, development of an identity and the capacity for self-reflection can be cultivated equally well in a variety of coursework configurations.

 

NCTQ welcomes its newest Board members

12/18/2014

Dr. Selma Botman

Dr. Botman has dedicated her career to higher education. She previously served as the Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Massachusetts, the president of University of Southern Maine, and the provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at The City University of New York. Dr. Botman has also taught at the College of the Holy Cross where she was involved in international programs and promoted Middle Eastern studies.

In her current role as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Yeshiva University, Dr. Botman is working with faculty and deans to expand curricular offerings for both undergraduate and graduate students. Along with her administrative responsibilities, Dr. Botman continues to teach undergraduates in the area of her academic specialty, modern Middle Eastern history and culture.

Dr. Botman holds a BA in Psychology from Brandeis University, a BPhil in Middle Eastern studies from Oxford University, and an AM in Middle Eastern Studies and PhD in History and Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University.

John Connolly

John R. Connolly is the co-founder and executive director of 1647, a non-profit start up that partners with schools to implement effective family engagement strategies including training teachers to conduct home visits.  Prior to founding 1647, John spent six years as a Boston City Councilor where he chaired the Committee on Education and co-chaired the annual review of the Boston Public Schools’ budget.  During his time as a City Councilor, John led the effort to reform the Boston teachers contract, lengthen the school day, and fully staff school-based social and emotional health services.  John also led a Council investigation that exposed rampant mismanagement of the Boston Public Schools’ food services department.  From 1995-1998, John taught seventh and eighth grade at the Nativity Mission School on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and taught sixth grade at the Boston Renaissance Charter School.  John has also worked as an attorney at Ropes & Gray and Hanify & King, P.C. from 2001 – 2007.

John currently serves on the board of FUEL Education.  He formerly served on the board of Meridian Academy and Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD).

Hugh Norwood

Hugh has been in and around the education industry as a professor, administrator, marketer and serial entrepreneur since 1995, with successful tenures at Emerson College, Lesley University and Laureate Education, Inc., (home of Walden University, Kendall College, National Technological and others). In 2007, he formed Trinity Education Group, Inc. as a Maryland S-Corps, and has served as its President and General Manager since. Hugh is a frequent presenter at professional education conferences such as NAGAP, AACRAO SEM, SXSW Interactive, SXSWedu and Connexions. He has held several board positions for corporations, including his current role as Board Chairman for InSync Education. He is a founding board member of SXSWedu and held a board position on Rice University’s OpenStaxx OER Center until 2013. Hugh received his BA summa cum laude from Moravian College (1990) and his Master of Fine Arts/Creative Writing from Emerson College (1995).

 

Transforming recruitment and hiring in Dallas

12/18/2014

Dallas Independent School District hires approximately 2,000 new teachers each year. It is transforming the way its human capital team works, adopting data-driven strategies for recruitment, selection and hiring. One of the many sources of evidence Dallas ISD uses is the Teacher Prep Review.

The district first evaluated past recruitment efforts based on NCTQ rankings to determine quality and whether they would have a future presence for recruiting season at the previously considered schools. Some schools have moved down or off of the list, while schools that previously were not targeted in the recruitment plans will become more of a focal point. The talent acquisition team travels near and far to find top talent to educate students. The team analyzed the NCTQ rankings carefully identifying the standards that best fit the districts needs and projected a strategic distribution for early contracts.

The new recruitment plan this year will strategically include places such as University of Houston , Arizona State University and Northwestern State University of Louisiana based on their rankings from NCTQ. Top students at these universities can look for early contracts from Dallas. These new teachers have had the training and preparation that will prepare them to meet the district’s needs and they’ll be welcomed into a district whose goal is to develop, support and reward their teachers for effectiveness in the classroom.

 

To use VAM or not to use VAM?

12/18/2014

The use of value-added models (VAM) to evaluate teachers and schools has never been short on critics, but this year the opposition has a few new leaders to rally behind. In April, the American Statistical Association (ASA) put out a statement of its concerns with the accuracy and interpretation of VAM estimates. And recently, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) Board of Directors released its own statement condemning the use of the statistical tool.

Among its concerns, the ASA said VAMs only: measure correlation and not causation; don’t necessarily predict long-range student outcomes; can’t attribute much variation in student academic growth to teachers (between only 1 and 14 percent); and are risky to use in high-stakes settings.

The NASSP took a harder line, explicitly stating that VAMs should not be used for any teacher personnel decisions and rather used only to measure school improvement and program effectiveness and to inform teachers’ professional development.

Economists in the field of education Chetty, Friedman and Rockoff have responded at least to the earlier statement: in November they published a statement addressing the ASA’s concerns point-by-point. In response to the argument that VAMs do not measure casual impacts of teachers on student academic growth, Chetty et al. cite a number of studies that find when VAMs control for students’ previous test scores, the models do capture direct effects from teachers. The researchers also note that while VAM can’t predict every important long-range outcome, there are several it can predict, including college attendance, earnings and teenage pregnancy. And while not all variation in student achievement can be attributed to teachers, Chetty, Friedman and Rockoff argue that what can be attributed to teachers is absolutely worth paying attention to and measuring because of teachers’ direct impact on student outcomes, both immediate and long-term (i.e., an increase in lifetime earnings).

The researchers do seem to agree with the ASA’s concern about VAM in a high-stakes setting— but only to say that there is not enough evidence to make a judgment on this point either way.

Each of these statements is worth a read. No matter what your opinion of VAM is, this debate increasingly matters as states start to link student academic growth to teacher evaluations.

 

Following the path from teacher prep to student achievement

12/18/2014

Over the years, there have been a gazillion studies examining the relative merit of different pathways into the teaching profession. Almost all come up short, often because the studies do not clearly define the type of pathway being analyzed (i.e., just what does it mean to be alternatively certified?)

A new study from Gary T. Henry and his colleagues at Vanderbilt does not disappoint, breaking down  the definitions of assorted pathways into more meaningful categories as well as examining the results of only new teachers (those with less than three years of experience). After all, should we really judge a preparation program by the teachers who graduated from Ol’ State U. in 1980 or by those who graduated in 2014?

Henry et al. disaggregate teaching pathways into multiple distinct categories: out of state, in state, graduate, undergraduate, public, private, Teach For America and lateral entry (North Carolina’s own alternative entry).

As always, the researchers find more variation within the groups than across; there are some notable differences in this study from what previous research has found.

There is some limited evidence of a “home team” advantage for specific teachers; teachers who were prepared in-state were more effective than those from out-of-state programs in three of the eight subjects tested. Additionally, teachers prepared in private institutions were no better than those from public institutions, a finding we didn’t find surprising given that we haven’t found a discernible difference between the two in the Teacher Prep Review.

One takeaway consistent with other studies’ findings: TFA comes out looking great. Students instructed by TFAcorps members annually gain approximately 18 days of additional learning in elementary math, 11 days in elementary reading and an astounding 73 days in middle grade math.

While there aren’t many TFA corps members in North Carolina, other alternatively trained teachers (referred to as “lateral entry”) have a much harder time posting gains. Findings conclude they are less effective (especially in STEM subjects) or, at best, average.

Here’s a finding we’ve never seen before: in both middle grade math and reading, teachers trained in graduate school aren’t as effective as teachers trained as undergraduates— though they do better in high school science. This needs more research to figure out if those different outcomes are due to the focus of masters’ degrees, if they were content specific, or in education.

 

In ed research, ‘tis never the season for making a hypothesis and checking it twice

12/18/2014

How do academic research and world exploration differ? In research, it’s good to discover the same thing twice! 

Replication – research that repeats a previous study – is a cornerstone of methodological rigor. But when was the last time you read about a replicated education study? We won't judge you if you can't remember. Turns out, few exist. Of those that do, their integrity may be questionable.

In a recent study, Matthew Makel and Jonathan Plucker assess replication in education science by looking into the publication history of the top 100 education journals. When looking for replication reports specifically, their analysis found that an infinitesimal number of the education articles published in these journals were actual replications (221 out of 164,589). And while this may not seem consequential at first, it matters. Even well-crafted experiments can find anomalous results – replicating a study can confirm that the original findings hold true or can turn up conflicting information that helps us better understand the subject of analysis.

In nearly half of all replications, the same research team that published the original article was also responsible for the replication study. This is slightly worrisome given that the success rate (when the replication has similar findings to the original study) is much higher (71 percent) when conducted by the original team than when there's no author overlap (54 percent). Although same author replications are beneficial to the field, it's clear that third-party authors are needed to increase reliability.

So why is replication not expected in education research? The authors argue that social science publishers and funders want new and exciting findings, so they’re more likely to fund, hire, publish and promote groundbreaking studies rather than those that seem like “old news.” Naturally, this kills any incentive to attempt replications.

Despite this unfavorable environment, some researchers are bucking this trend. Check out Bacher-Hicks, Kane and Staiger (2014) and Rothstein (2014 working paper)both of which replicate an earlier study by Chetty, Friedman and Rockoff (2014)on the impact of teachers. Be on the lookout for a write-up on those replication papers in next month's TQB.

 

Hash it out: Contradictory findings on teacher prep and persistence

12/18/2014

Districts often ask NCTQ to identify the preparation programs that produce teachers who will stay in the classroom through thick and thin. So we eagerly dove into two recent articles, one by Richard Ingersoll and colleagues, the other by Matthew Ronfeldt and colleagues,thatexamine which aspects of teacher preparation predict persistence – and we emerged a little perplexed.

Despite sharing the same data sources (the US Department of Education’s School and Staffing Survey and its companion Teacher Follow-Up Survey), the researchers reach opposite conclusions. Ingersoll et al. find “a large and cumulative relationship between pedagogy [i.e., methods courses, student teaching, etc.] and attrition.” First-year teachers with the least training were three times more likely to leave teaching than those with the most.

By contrast, Ronfeldt et al. find that the whole can be less than the sum of its parts. True enough, teacher candidates who take more methods courses or who have more weeks of student teaching are more likely to stay. But teachers who get full doses of both student teaching and methods courses are actually slightly more likely to leave teaching than those who just get one or the other. Puzzling?  For sure.

The good news is that both articles conclude that teachers who had a substantial stint of student teaching are less likely to leave. The bad news is that this finding doesn’t help us all that much in identifying programs that prevent attrition, as most traditional programs now require such a stint (i.e., a full semester).

 

Ready or not: New teachers and the transition to higher standards

12/18/2014

In the five years since most states adopted Common Core State Standards or their own version of college- and career-readiness standards, about one million new teachers have graduated from teacher preparation programs in the United States. With five years lead time, we thought the time was right to look at whether states have aligned their requirements for teacher preparation and licensure with the skills needed to prepare students for college and careers.

The 2014 State Teacher Policy Yearbookfinds that most states have yet to make the critical changes this alignment necessitates. With such profound changes occurring in K-12 standards, it would stand to reason that requirements for new teachers would be changing, too. We looked across states’ requirements for teachers’ subject-matter knowledge and skills related to the instructional shifts demanded by the new standards— such as the focus on the use of complex informational text across all subject areas, as well as admission and accountability requirements for teacher preparation programs. We found just five states – Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Texas – that are on the right track for ensuring new teachers are ready.

In addition to these five states, Arkansas is also noteworthy, having done more than most other states to revise its standards for teachers to reflect the instructional requirements of college- and career-readiness standards. 

Most states have considerable work to do. An area of particular neglect is preparation of special education teachers, where the findings are especially grim:

- 34 states offer or exclusively grant K-12 special education teacher licenses  that make no distinction between preparation to teach elementary or secondary grades. This policy sends an important and devastating message about special education: there is no need for any specific subject or grade-level content or pedagogy knowledge for teachers of any special education students ages 5-17.

- Just 15 states require any special education teachers to pass subject-matter tests. Although most special education students are expected to meet the same high college- and career-readiness standards as other students, too many states set a lower bar for licensing special education teachers.

- Of the 18 states that require general education elementary teachers to pass a test of effective reading instruction, seven do not require the test for elementary special education teachers. Considering that reading difficulties are the primary reason for referrals to special education, the failure to transfer this important requirement to special education teachers is nothing short of baffling

Search our dashboard or download a report here.

 

NCTQ v. University of Missouri

12/18/2014

Earlier this month, the Missouri Supreme Court declined to hear NCTQ's appeal of a lower court decision, which blocked our request  that the University of Missouri turn over course syllabi to us  for the purpose of assessing them for the Teacher Prep Review.  As is the custom of the Supreme Court, no reason was given about its decision, but it came as a surprise given the considerable support, including amicus briefs, from Missouri journalists. As UM Professor Mike Podgursky described, “The absurd legal fiction that syllabi distributed to 35,000 UM students cannot be disclosed” has been allowed to stand.

None of the legal decisions actually prevent us from traveling to Missouri and looking at syllabi, provided no one has to copy them for us.  That was an option we had not wanted to pursue, because of the principle at stake here and the cost involved in sending numerous analysts to multiple Missouri campuses.

Missouri’s press association rightly calls the Supreme Court’s refusal to take up the case “devastating,” as Missouri public agencies can now refuse to disclose any copyrighted document. The implication of this decision has not fallen on deaf ears — Missouri’s legislature is now considering a bill on the matter to ensure that it continues to live up to its reputation as the “Show-Me State.”

 

Finally! Good old-fashioned investigative journalism on teacher prep

12/18/2014

A top-notch, three-part series (here, here and here) running in this week’s Education Week sheds new light on one of the most non-transparent of states’ regulatory functions: their approval of teacher preparation programs. Journalist Stephen Sawchuk spent months doggedly investigating this largely dysfunctional system, trying to figure out why states rarely yank program approval from any of the nation's 25,000 programs. The pursuit may not rise to the level of who really killed Hae Min Lee (surely you're listening to the hit podcast Serial)—but, in our view, it comes pretty close.

Sawchuk weaves a compelling narrative about the reluctance of state officials to intervene (and how convoluted intervention can become) by highlighting controversies involving programs in Michigan and New York. The third and last article grapples with the root issue:  a fundamental lack of agreement about what teacher prep should be about. As a quote from Jim Cibulka, president of the national accreditor CAEP (the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation) puts it, the curriculum for teacher preparation “has been largely driven by ideology and tradition, rather than empirical knowledge and investigation...We have allowed a thousand flowers to bloom, including weeds, because there was no empirical basis on which to separate the wheat from the chaff.” 

The next piece on Sawchuk’s list should be a cold, hard look at the way that many states' oversight became so entangled with national accreditation, mostly during the 1990s when NCATE was on a roll. Only eight states now approve programs entirely independently of accreditation. The arranged marriage certainly wasn't appropriate under the NCATE regime and there's a strong argument to be made, no matter how weak or strong CAEP ends up being, that program approval should never be intertwined with program accreditation. Sawchuk references their entanglement, but it’s a huge topic in and of itself that needs exploring.

 

My lawn chair cost me $50,000

11/20/2014

At least that is what I would like to believe.

This past September, America Succeeds hosted its inaugural conference in Boise, Idaho. Actually it was billed as an "EDventure"— a thinly veiled swipe at the typical conference fare we all know too well—involving endless groups of panelists promising to limit their remarks to a few minutes only to be shocked, just shocked, when the unfailingly polite (meek) moderator suggests wrapping it up (“But I still have 10 slides to go!!”). Anyway, the wonderful Tim Taylor who is busily growing America Succeeds asked me to come, so I happily signed up.

At some point at EDventure there was probably some education talky talk, but I was more intrigued by the "Recess" session, featuring our choice of fly fishing, mountain biking, rock climbing or bird watching. (I was incensed to learn that my assistant signed me up for bird watching and in a huff switched myself to rock climbing. For heaven's sake, I'm not THAT old!)

Even more alluring was the Shark Tank Pitch. Head honchos from Gates, Helmsley and Albertson foundations were on hand to hear and respond to anyone's 5-minute pitch for a great education idea and fund it on the spot. No 10-page proposal, no string of unanswered emails, no sucking up. Instead, an instantaneous $50,000 grant! Take a look at the video. Awesome!

Anyway, I wasn't able to go because a very heavy Adirondack chair dropped on top of my head, sending me out of commission with a mild concussion. I lost my chance not only to rock climb (which, to be honest, was a questionable choice), but also to pitch an idea which I had absolutely no doubt NCTQ would have won, and we are now $50,000 poorer for it.

Who won my $50,000? Brenda Berg, who's leading America Succeed's newest affiliate, BEST NC.  Brenda isn't your typical TFA-Charter-Ed-Reformer, having recently sold her own successful manufacturing company (baby furniture). If PIE had an award for "Most Likely to Succeed" (take note, Suzanne Kubach), Brenda would be my bet.

Brenda won $50,000 even though not everyone on the funders' panel was gung ho. In fact, Brenda was, as she put it, the only one to get "shark bit" when Jamie MacMillan from Albertson summarily dismissed Brenda's idea. Brenda's pitch was about funding a large-scale effort involving some 180 stakeholders in North Carolina, convening them to collaborate and reach a consensus on a major comprehensive reform plan in the state. That's not an idea most of us in the ed reform world love. As Michelle Rhee famously said, "Collaboration is overrated."  In declining to fund BEST NC, Jamie (likely echoed by most everyone else in the room) said this: "... it’s too nice for me."

However, a few weeks ago, Brenda sold the ultimate (albeit penniless) skeptic: me. I swear it was not the long-term effects of the concussion. I was mostly just really impressed with her clearly capable persona coupled with steely determination. She also reminded me of something we reformers are too quick to forget —that consensus building has actually been known to work and in some remarkable and sustainable ways, both in Massachusetts in the early ‘90s and Tennessee in this decade. Brenda with her extensive staff of one, former CarolinaCan director Julie Kowal, has put in place a wildly ambitious, furiously paced timeline involving 54 subcommittee meetings, which convene three times over three months. Ouch. They intend to leave even these role models in the dust (okay on that point, I'll reserve judgment).

So my bet is on Brenda.  And I can probably speak for Jamie that she would be more than glad to be proven wrong.

 

Worth their weight in gold

11/20/2014

We love this study for what it says about great teachers. 

People generally agree that an effective English teacher may not make such a great Calculus teacher, or vice versa. While people may assume that good teaching probably won’t translate across subjects, few have considered whether good teaching can translate across all students.

New research asks this very question, looking specifically at whether teachers who have high scores on value-added measures (VAM) with non-English learner (EL) students have similarly high VAM scores with EL students. The study, by Susanna Loeb, James Soland and Lindsay Fox, finds that, yes, good teaching for one group of students remains effective for another group with different needs in the same class.

Examining seven years of data from teachers who had both EL and non-EL students, the researchers found that consistency in effective teaching holds true for both math and reading, although the relationship is stronger with effective math teachers. More than half of the teachers considered to be in the top-fifth of all teachers for non-EL students are also in the top fifth for EL students. For reading, this overlap is slightly lower: a little under half of the top teachers for non-ELs are also the top teachers for ELs.

A few characteristics, however, are associated with teachers being more effective with EL students. Specifically, teachers who have a bilingual certification or are fluent in Spanish tend to be more effective with their EL students relative to their non-EL students.

The implication for those hiring new teachers is that their best option is to find a good teacher – period. However, if the school system has lots of EL students, finding a good teacher who is also fluent in Spanish (assuming that’s the language commonly spoken by EL students) or who has a bilingual certification may mean a bigger boost for EL students.

 

Take note STEM enthusiasts! Teachers’ science classes need more science

11/20/2014

It’s no secret that some elementary teachers would rather walk across hot lava than teach a science lesson and that means less science gets taught.  A new study shows that improving teachers’ content knowledge may be the best way to increase their students’ science learning, suggesting that elementary teachers should take more rigorous science classes.  That might sound like a no brainer, but it is amazing how often teacher content knowledge has been missing from the nation's STEM conversation.

When Brandon S. Diamond, Jaime Maerten-Rivera, Rose Elizabeth Rohrer and Okhee Lee examined teacher characteristics that influenced student science learning, they found that teachers’ science knowledge, measured by a test, was the strongest predictor of student success in science.

Other measures were largely irrelevant, including self-reported teacher science knowledge, highest degree obtained and even the number of science courses that teachers had taken in college. The last finding is particularly intriguing because one would think that more science courses equal more science knowledge. However, there are two major shortcomings in the courses elementary candidates do take which perhaps go a long way to explain this finding.

First, candidates are often not required to take basic courses that would give teacher candidates a breadth of knowledge across important science areas. Second, elementary candidates frequently have too many choices about which science courses they can take – meaning that they may choose courses that are not relevant to teaching elementary students. So instead of taking a relevant and basic course like “Introduction to Biology,” they may take “Introduction to Astronomy” – a topic that comes up far less often in elementary schools. Or, they may select a course like “Earthquakes and Society” which, while fascinating, means that teacher candidates will be unprepared to teach anything beyond this narrow topic scope. NCTQ’s Teacher Prep Review has found that almost 70 percent of undergraduate programs do not require that teacher candidates take even one basic science survey course.

The answer is not more classes, but more comprehensive coverage of the science topics elementary teachers must be able to teach. Shouldn’t elementary students have the opportunity to learn science from a teacher who knows about earthquakes AND the rock cycle, dinosaurs AND the six kingdoms of life - and much more?

 

Sensible, technical advice for school districts on incorporating student learning into teacher evals

11/20/2014

School leaders seeking to revamp their teacher evaluation systems are biting into a meaty subject.

Behind the very public questions of whom to evaluate and what to count is another layer most of us can overlook, but a question school districts can't: how should test score data be measured? Making the right decision requires an understanding of different value-added models and how to pick a model that best suits the needs of the school district.  There may not be one right answer. Darn.

A new study sets out to explain the trade-offs of different value-added models. Mark Ehlert, Cory Koedel, Eric Parsons and Michael Podgursky explore different ways to build these models and find that some of these variations make a big difference in teacher evaluations – and some don’t – though they leave the big decisions to education officials rather than throwing their weight behind one model or another.

The most significant decision facing those who develop teacher evaluations in a state or district is whether they want a "one-step" or "two-step" model— a decision with big policy implications. (See our explanation on the difference between the two and how the one-step model tends to favor teachers in more advantaged schools, while the two-step is more likely to recognize stronger teachers within disadvantaged schools.)

Deciding which student characteristics to include in the model (e.g., free/reduced lunch status, language status, race), also doesn’t seem to have a clear right – or wrong — answer. Different combinations of these variables yield results that are highly correlated with each other (in other words, removing or adding a variable does not drastically change the outcome of the model). However, these changes do affect rankings. So, for example, when two teachers have similar value added scores, one model find that Teacher A is more effective, while a model with different characteristics included may find that Teacher B is more effective – but, and this is important, neither model is likely to see Teacher A go from highly effective to ineffective.

Finally, these researchers also make the case that using more years of previous test scores makes the data only a little more accurate; so little, in fact, that it doesn’t merit the trade-off of evaluating fewer grades. It seems that one previous year of data is generally good enough...so out the window goes some advice we've been freely offering states over the years.

 

Why and how we looked behind the Easy A's

11/20/2014

For nearly a decade, NCTQ has been trying to figure out how to evaluate teacher prep coursework for its rigor. It's an endeavor to which both of us brought no small measure of personal interest due to our own experiences in teacher prep programs.

We think the wait was worth it. Our latest report, Easy A’s and What’s Behind Them, is a twofer that both addresses the grading standards in teacher prep and puts forward a plausible theory for the high grades.

Our president, Kate Walsh, first hit on the novel idea of using brochures from spring graduation ceremonies as the data source for teacher candidates' grade point averages. (Grade-based Latin honors are often noted in brochures.) We brainstormed any number of ideas for how to obtain those brochures -- until we realized that they were readily available on websites and from registrar’s and commencement offices. The fact that it took over 5 hours on average to wrestle into spreadsheets the data from each of over 500 brochures -- well, that's a mere technicality, not a deterrent.

The second prong of this two-pronged report is the categorization of coursework assignments (be they in teacher prep or any other major) into one of two types. One type (criterion-referenced) facilitates real learning by focusing on content and skills. The other (criterion-deficient) involves overly broad or subjective assignments that not only artificially raise grades but also seriously weaken the quality of training. The identification of these two basic assignment types grew out of Julie's years of perusing coursework for our teacher prep studies. Now she feels pretty stupid for not identifying the distinction earlier. After all, it's so evident once it's explained that we've included a do-it-yourself categorization quiz in the report.

One more note on the personal dedication our team brought to the analysis for this report: our categorization of over 6,000 teacher prep coursework assignments was done largely by Christina Perucci, a very clear-eyed NCTQ analyst. The vacuous nature of the courses Christina took for her reading specialist degree from Teachers College at Columbia University (historically the premier teacher education institution in the nation) is still a sore point for her.

Importantly, our work on improving rigor in teacher prep won't stop with this report. The report has laid a foundation for a new standard — the Rigor Standard — for the Teacher Prep Review. We have first assessed teacher prep programs on the alignment of their grades with the institution at large, but we will soon also be looking for an adequate representation of criterion-referenced assignments—the assignments which keep grades in balance and help to truly prepare teachers—in a sample of program coursework.

We hope this is work that the field welcomes, having heard from many deans over the years that they'd like to find some plausible ways to reduce the high number of "A" grades their faculties award. We've taken great pains in this report to provide resources for teacher educators on how to easily transform a criterion-deficient assignment into a criterion-referenced one. 

We'll know we're having a real impact when the litany of teacher candidate tweets at #edmajor which boast about the low-level demands of teacher prep assignments (coloring assignments and making marshmallow snowmen are now coming up) begin to change to boasts about meeting its real challenges.

 

District

10/16/2014

In last month’s Teacher Trendline, we discussed a group of teachers who are often ignored in teacher quality discussions: substitutes. Given the increasing awareness of the importance of teacher attendance, it is valuable to know more about the policies affecting those teachers who fill in while students’ full-time teachers are absent. Did you know, for example, that Portland, OR pays its substitutes just over $180 per day, the most of all the districts in the NCTQ Teacher Contract Database? And that about 50 percent of school districts require their substitutes to have at least a Bachelor’s degree, while a third do not require any postsecondary degree?

Interested in looking at the data yourself? You can always browse any of these policies and more across 118 districts and two charter management organizations in the Teacher Contract Database.

 

What does rigorous clinical practice look like?

10/16/2014

Everyone says practice matters; but the Match Teacher Residency provides a shining example of a rigorous, practice-permeated approach to training designed to ensure that new teachers will hit the ground running. It may serve as the uber example of Non-Traditional Teacher Prep.

As part of a year-long residency, in conjunction with practice designing and implementing rigorous classroom instruction, residents must master fundamental classroom management “moves” involving scanning and making their expectations clear. Residents learn how to receive and respond to feedback before moving on to real classroom instruction.

Here are some great materials, provided courtesy of Scott McCue, COO of Match Teacher Residency:

Advance reading for candidates from Match's handbook on classroom management.

A video of a candidate whose first attempts at scanning requires explicit and targeted guidance from a coach.

A video of the same candidate at the end of training, when her scanning is adequate to pass the relevant portion of the high-stakes assessment used to screen for preparedness for classroom instruction.

We'd like to feature more examples of rigorous teacher prep in this "From the Field" column and we welcome submissions from teacher prep programs. Look for more discussion of what we propose makes teacher prep assignments rigorous in our next report in the "Training our future teachers" series.

 

Benefits of ambivalence: A new tenure policy holds promise for student gains

10/16/2014

Policy fixes are necessary to lay the groundwork for change, but it's in the implementation of those policies where the rubber meets the road.

Since 2009, a lot of states have made changes to their tenure laws, including New York. In that state, new policy changed what happens after new teachers complete the three-year probationary period, requiring school leaders to review the "candidate's effectiveness over the applicable probationary period in contributing to the successful academic performance of his or her students" before tenure is granted. Did that new law and its dogged implementation by Joel Klein, et al., in New York City make any difference? 

Perhaps so. Research released by Susanna Loeb, Luke Miller and James Wyckoff found not only that the district currently awards tenure to far fewer teachers than it once did, but also that the quality of the overall teacher applicant pool showed a marked improvement: a struggling teacher who left the system after the district decided to delay its tenure decision was, on average, replaced by a measurably better teacher.

Interestingly, when the district told teachers it was not ready to make a tenure decision (delaying for a year as the law allows), those teachers were 50 percent more likely to transfer schools and 66 percent more likely to leave the system than teachers who were awarded tenure. These findings showcase that just the act of delaying the tenure decision can result in presumably weaker teachers self-selecting an option that may be better suited for them (and consequently their students).

New York is particularly interesting because districts in the state can keep delaying their tenure decisions for as long as they like. Data below highlight what happened to the 1,369 teachers whose tenure was extended in the 2011-2012 school year (623 had at least one extension previously) in the following school year.


Source: http://ny.chalkbeat.org/2013/08/27/tenure-crunch-continues-but-just-41-teachers-denied-on-first-try/#.VBsN1fldUcA

Questions remain about how multiple tenure extensions will affect the overall quality of the teacher pool. Do teachers who receive a second or a third extension leave at even greater rates than those here did after receiving a first? Are they continually being replaced by more effective teachers, as happened in this instance? While a seemingly never-ending extension policy is not a good idea (at some point you have to cut bait), if teachers choose to leave at greater rates every time they get another extension and are consistently replaced by more effective teachers, then the city’s overall teacher quality should increase - unless a law of diminishing returns is at work.

With these questions in mind, initial data certainly suggests some real benefits for the quality of the teacher workforce.

However, an earlier policy change complicates this picture, perhaps amplifying the positive outcomes that may be tempting to attribute only to the change in the tenure policy and Klein's implementation. At the same time, New York City also stopped the practice of force placing teachers who had been "excessed," allowing principals the right to refuse to take in a displaced teacher. Since the excess pool is (by reputation, at least) a dumping ground for low-performing teachers, their absence from the teaching pool may also contribute to the finding that new teachers are more effective than those they replace. But given other factors at play (including a hiring freeze that took effect the same year as the new tenure policy, in which Chancellor Klein required principals to hire teachers from the Absent Teacher Reserve Pool), it seems fair to say that this policy does not wholly explain the positive change in the applicant pool.

Timeline of major teacher quality policies in New York City, 2005-2006 to 2014-2015

It's unlikely that the new union-friendly NYC schools administration will continue Klein's tenure and excess policies, as neither was something the union favored. In any case, this study is especially timely as two lawsuits (modeled after the famous Vergara v. California case) that attack teacher policies such as tenure and last in, first out layoffs, have been filed in New York. One side or the other is bound to bring up this research-- but oddly enough, it's not clear which side it helps.

 

No greater than the sum of their parts

10/16/2014

If one Teach For America (TFA) corps member can boost student test scores at a higher rate than other teachers in the same school, would multiple TFA corps members in the same school result in even higher student scores?

New research by Michael Hansen, Ben Backes, Victoria Brady and Zey Xu addresses this question by looking at Miami-Dade County Public Schools, where TFA teachers are purposefully clustered into a targeted set of disadvantaged schools.* This notion — that TFA’s impact on high poverty schools could really blossom if more corps members were clustered in a school — is one TFA has suggested in the past.

This study, like those that come before it, finds that TFA corps members pack a lot of punch in mathematics, consistently producing nearly three months’ more achievement in mathematics over a single school year than their non-TFA peers. When it comes to reading scores, though, the authors continue to find what other research has found: there isn't much difference.   

So, is their largely positive impact greater than the sum of its parts? In a word, no. The study found no spillover effects on the performance of non-TFA colleagues. Student achievement in math increased only by the amount of each additional TFA teacher and no more. Clustering the corps members had the effect of concentrating these gains in placement schools, but TFA’s total impact in the district would have been the same had the corps members been dispersed evenly throughout the district.

*For more information on teacher distribution in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, be sure to read NCTQ’s recent paper, Unequal access, unequal results.

 

Disconnected? Comparing principals’ values with value-added measures

10/16/2014

As states work to implement new evaluation systems, the tenuous, if not ambiguous, relationship between value-added (VA) scores and principals’ observations will need to get nailed down and better understood. New research by Douglas Harris, William Ingle and Stacey Rutledge provides some insight, asking, “How consistent are principals' impressions of their teachers with their value-added data?”

Researchers interviewed elementary and secondary principals in one Florida school district and asked them first to rate a sample of teachers on a number of different factors and second to give each teacher an overall score. These ratings were then compared with those teachers’ value-added data.

Researchers found a positive but quite weak correlation between the principals’ overall rating and their teachers' value-added scores. They also found that some principals perceived teachers with high VAM scores as working too often in isolation and participating too infrequently in school extracurricular activities. As a result, these principals often gave lower overall ratings to these teachers. Notably, principals were not aware of teachers' VAM scores at the time they rated teachers.

At least there was a strong, statistically significant correlation where it would most be expected, that is, when principals were only asked to judge teachers “teaching ability.” 

 

A call to higher educators: Let's have an honest debate about teacher prep

10/16/2014

Most people who took the time to read NYT Motoko Rich's article about the training methods used by Aspire charter schools in its teacher residency probably reacted with a "makes-sense-to-me" shrug of their shoulders. Of course it's a good idea to tear down teaching's inherent complexities into manageable chunks and have novices practice each to mastery. After all, it's what other professions do when they train their apprentices.

If that was your reaction, maybe you would be surprised to learn that such methods ignite passionate, even vehement, disapproval in much of the teacher preparation field.

Many years ago, it was decided that teacher education was about forming teachers – not training them. In other words, the job of the true teacher educator was to hone a young teacher's intuitions so well that she could somehow walk into any classroom anywhere and immediately intuit how to teach.

There's little evidence that such an approach works, judging by new teachers' complaints and the learning loss that takes place in most new teachers' classrooms. The reality is, we need a world-class teacher training system in this country and it has to be premised on more than a 22-year-old's intuition, however sharp. We have to provide training that gives teachers what they need to lead their classrooms the moment they graduate. We know that there are many proven, research-based tactics that are not being implemented systematically in our teacher prep programs. We need to change that thinking — and we need to shift the "intuitive" approach to the "training" approach.

How do we do that? It starts with asking aspiring teachers, school districts, taxpayers, public school educators and parents their opinion. And it requires those in the teacher prep field to acknowledge that it is indeed their responsibility to train teachers.

Higher education leaders, opinion makers and policymakers should be having a fair, honest academic discussion about how best to train teachers. That will require all parties coming together and listening to each other about what teachers truly need.  We can and must do better when it comes to preparing teachers for the classroom. It is not too late to make it happen.

 

Is NCTQ litigious?

09/18/2014

Americans increasingly agree that the gateway into teaching ought to be a whole lot tougher. Findings released this week from Gallup/ PDK's annual education poll indicate that six in ten Americans recognize that entry standards into teacher preparation aren't rigorous enough. Fully eight in ten think teachers should have to pass some sort of bar exam. That could be read as a public endorsement of AFT's 2012 testing proposal, except that sensible idea's only purpose was to serve as the guts of a fiery Weingarten speech.

The only time you find that kind of consensus is on the subject of ice cream, or maybe bacon. The message from these latest poll numbers is crystal clear: the public thinks teacher prep needs fixing. As NCTQ has been banging this drum for a decade now (and for many of those years, as a solo act), the numbers come as very, very heartening news. It's not good news that we have a teacher prep problem, but as we all know, the first step to fixing any problem is to acknowledge its existence. Can we agree to roll up our sleeves?

Other less heartening news earlier this month came from Missouri, when we asked the Show Me state to, “Show us their course syllabi” under the state's sunshine law, and the answer was an emphatic NO. To be accurate, the University of Missouri System said no and on August 26, an appellate court agreed that course syllabi are indeed exempt from the state's sunshine laws. The oddly reasoned argument concluded that the syllabi are copyrighted and don't have to be shown to anyone. “Huh?” we asked. Copyright or not, there's this thing called the "fair use" provision of American copyright law which allows someone to study copyrighted materials as long as they don't profit from them. Bad news for NCTQ, but worse news for a free press and public transparency.

So now we'll be heading to the Missouri Supreme Court. University of Missouri professor Mike Podgursky and long-time NCTQ booster was outraged by his own institution's obfuscation and bravely said so in an op-ed (he may have tenure, but he does have to share the Mizzou sidewalks). That led to another Missouri ed professor labeling our decision a "bully" move. I know I'm biased, but it seems to me an utterly reasonable act. The issue of NCTQ having the right to review course syllabi has been settled in our favor in eight of nine states, including by a Minnesota appellate court. There's nothing unique about Missouri in this case.

In any event, I'm not in a bullying frame of mind, nor even a litigious one. The whole business (even if reasonable) is distasteful. The problem we face is not of any single institution's making, but a systematic problem that needs to be acknowledged. We can all contribute to its solution.

 

Teacher prep

09/18/2014


 

District

09/18/2014


 

State

09/18/2014

As students settle into their first months of the new school year, it’s a good time to check in on the teacher policy landscape governing the profession across the country.  From new college- and career-ready standards to changes in evaluation systems, many states are making progress towards ensuring that all students have effective teachers. Currently, all but ten states require that at least some objective evidence of student learning is considered when evaluating teacher performance.  And with so many new teachers just beginning their careers, it’s good to see that 31 states require mentoring for all new teachers and 26 have strong overall induction policies, unless of course you are a new teacher from one of the many that don’t. For more information on the national landscape, or to see how your state’s policies are doing, explore our State Teacher Policy Yearbook dashboard here.

 

Review of Elizabeth Green's Building A Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone)

09/18/2014

Along with Tom LovelessRobert Pondiscio and David Steiner, count me among those who are less than enchanted  by Elizabeth Green’s new book. The journalist—who did such a fine job as a blogger about New York City education issues—has definitely written an engaging book. Unfortunately, it is in the service of a weak theory that may divert us from making the right changes in how teachers are trained.

In a nutshell, Green's argument is that two teacher educators, Deborah Lowenberg Ball and Magdalene Lampert (both very prominent in teacher ed circles), have perfected the student-centered, discussion-based instructional practices that parallel those in Japan's math classrooms. By contrast, Green argues that while the "teacher moves" developed by Doug Lemov (very prominent in the world of charter schools) bring order to often chaotic urban classrooms, they stifle student interaction and thought. (A more charitable portrayal, at least, than by those in teacher ed who view Lemov as promoting nothing more than a “bag of tricks.”)

Nearly two decades into their work, neither Ball nor Lampert has yet to produce any research demonstrating that teachers who employ their methods produce greater learning gains than teachers who do not, a vacuum that may have passed muster years ago, but can't be tolerated any more. Ball has laid out an impressive research agenda into the relevant questions, but—to our knowledge—neither she nor anyone else has set about answering those questions. Nor, apparently, did Green demand that the heroines of her story show her the proof that their methods were effective, instead drawing parallels to Japan's classrooms.

Reviews to date of Green’s book have also noted the lack of research evidence and the problems with drawing parallels between American and Japanese schooling. But they have missed another obvious weakness, which William Schmidt's studies about  the self-professed teaching difficulties of our elementary teachers and the middling preparation of our middle school teachers internationally make quite clear: many of our teachers have a difficult time teaching math at even a procedural level. Whatever the pedagogical value of probing, student-centered discussions of math concepts, ignoring the fact that Japanese teachers can orchestrate such discussions because they are better-versed in math ignores a critical factor in improving the preparation of U.S. teachers. What's missing from the Green story is a simple, matter-of-fact observation: teachers can't teach what they don't know. Any discussion of the pedagogy of math instruction that doesn't explicitly address the issue of content preparation is deficient on its face.

 

What a difference a decade makes

09/18/2014

More teacher experience may have a few more benefits than the research has been touting (not that we really think it didn’t). A new study by Helen “Sonny” Ladd and Lucy Sorenson finds a positive relationship between a teacher’s years of experience in the classroom and students’ achievement and non-cognitive behavioral skills, into at least a teacher’s 12th year of teaching, far surpassing the 5th-year crest that most research is telling us represents the end of the climb.

Using a sample of about 250,000 students in North Carolina (a state known for its robust data system) over five years, the researchers find that years of experience are positively related to student test scores, especially in math. The effect is not insubstantial: the positive impact on student achievement from a teacher with five years of experience is about twice as much as the disadvantage presented by a student’s race or family income. Those benefits from experience continue to grow until a teacher has about 12 years of experience. The study also found positive (albeit weaker) correlations with students’ non-cognitive and behavioral skills, including student absenteeism, disruptive classroom behaviors, time spent completing homework and time spent reading for pleasure.

Notably, Ladd and Sorenson found that “high ability” teachers leave the profession more often than those of lower ability.

There are a few methodological concerns to keep in mind: non-random assignment of students to teachers (which happens often when principals reward veteran teachers with higher-ability classes or parents request certain teachers) could throw off estimates. Also, because the data set only includes five years of data, even with the use of teacher fixed effects, no teacher is compared to herself across 12 or more years (for example, the data set does not show Ms. Smith’s effectiveness as both a first-year and a 15th-year teacher). To sum up, while this research finds a relationship between experience and efficacy, it cannot conclude that experience causes teaching efficacy.

 

Which teachers stick around?

09/18/2014

While the recent landmark Vergara v. California court case focused on teachers who are or should be dismissed, the greatest portion of teachers are still those who don’t stick around to collect their gold watches (er, engraved pencil boxes), but leave voluntarily.

Annual teacher turnover leaves principals scrambling to fill classrooms and get new staff up to speed. This turnover costs school districts money (roughly an estimated $9,000 per teacher according to a study by Gary Barnes, Edward Crowe and Benjamin Schaefer) and hurts students’ academic achievement. While no principal knows for sure whether the teacher being interviewed will stick it out or not, new research by Dan Goldhaber and James Cowan suggests that tracing teachers back to where they were prepared may contain a few hints. Using Washington State data, they found that the variance in teacher attrition by preparation program was about 5-7 percent each year.

Put in clearer terms, at the 10-year mark, 73 percent of teachers who graduated from the prep program with the highest “survival rate” were still teaching, while only 34 percent of teachers from the program with the lowest survival rate remained. That’s remarkable.

It’s unclear if this variance is due to what the prep programs are teaching future teachers, or because of differences in who attends these programs. But it does suggest districts and principals ought to be collecting and using such data for decision making.