Article Archive

TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin Newsletter


Kate Walsh joined by leaders from the winning Great Districts for Great Teachers at SXSWedu.
(Left to right) Emily Qazilbash, Ed. D (Boston Public Schools), Susan Rockelman (Broward County Public Schools), Anthony Anderson (Pittsburgh Public Schools), Jason Kamras (District of Columbia Public Schools), Kate Walsh, Deborah Hearty (Denver Public Schools), Ursulina Ramirez (New York City Department of Education), Michael Grego, Ed.D. (Pinellas County Schools), and J. Alvin Wilbanks (Gwinnett County Public Schools).


Quick look at what's inside....

The view from NCTQ
  • Positive Reinforcement for Great Districts for Great Teachers
Digging into the research
  • A Missed Opportunity for Performance Pay Research
  • For Those Who Want to Teach: UTeach

The view from NCTQ

Positive Reinforcement for Great Districts for Great Teachers

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

— Kate Walsh

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Digging into the research

For those who want to teach: UTeach

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.

— Graham Drake

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A Missed Opportunity for Performance Pay Research

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.

— Caryn Morgan and Sarah Heaton

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< February 2017