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TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin Newsletter


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The view from NCTQ
  • Wanted: Teachers! No reading or writing required
Digging into the research
  • Principles for principals: How districts can support data-rich hiring
  • Bias watch: Student discipline
  • New online course helps teachers learn and practice the latest reading research

The view from NCTQ

Wanted: Teachers! No reading or writing required

Over the last few months, a whole bunch of states -- including Arizona, Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, New York, and Wisconsin -- have tried to lower their requirements for becoming a teacher, even if not all succeeded in doing so.

New York's decision to lower its entry standards is the most disturbing—in part because the state previously had made such exemplary progress on this issue under John King, its former education chief, and Merryl Tisch, former chancellor of the State Board of Regents. They not only improved and expanded New York's licensing tests to more accurately reflect the skills every teacher needs, they also put in place a top notch accountability system on a public NY State Data website. This enabled consumers to find an array of educational data, including which institutions of higher education were doing a good job preparing their teacher candidates for the state's licensing tests.

One of the safeguards New York had installed was a literacy test, measuring teachers' ability to read critically and write using evidence. Yet the new state leadership recently elected to throw out this test.

And that new accountability system? First the state wiped all the data, leaving the sad bones of the once informative site (as shown above).

These moves have about as much justification behind them as the rationales put forward for exiting the Paris climate accord.

Unlike other states, New York's decision wasn't inspired by a panic over teacher shortages. Quite the reverse. Routinely, only about one in five people in New York who qualify to be teachers actually takes a teaching job in the state, a level of overproduction that's been going on for years.

The sorry truth behind the move is that too many teacher candidates were failing the test (the pass rate in 2013-14 was 68 percent), raising awkward questions about the quality of aspiring teachers and embarrassing many of New York's colleges and universities charged with training these candidates.

Talk about killing the messenger.

From the get go, higher education institutions have been putting a lot of pressure on the state to abandon the test. Even my good friend and colleague TNTP head Dan Weisberg (also a big provider of teachers), in this op-ed, publicly opposed the test for being "unproven" and for its harsh impact on diversity, arguing instead for a system that puts up few hoops at the point of entry.

I wonder which poor kids get to be the guinea pigs while unscreened teachers prove their mettle. Anyway, I will concede that Weisberg wasn't exaggerating about the impact of tests on the diversity of the teaching pool. The already low pass-rates on the New York test plummet for Hispanic (down to 46 percent) and black teacher candidates (down to 41 percent).

But those drops are not unusual. Every standardized test taken by American school children reports similarly distressing gaps, largely the result of a far higher percentage of students of color who lack equal access to quality educators. In most instances, educators work hard to close the gap in educational opportunities that give rise to the Achievement Gap. In New York's case, it just kills the test.

New York officials defended the decision, asserting that the test was biased and that its content was not related to the skills teachers need -- because apparently we now have to prove that teachers need to be able to read and write to teach! It was a risky stand as a federal district judge had issued a ruling that the literacy test did in fact evaluate necessary skills for teaching, ruling out a charge of bias.

Mostly, opponents of the test are going with this stock answer: the test was simply "unnecessary." A bachelor's degree, they argued, should serve as enough evidence that the graduate is literate. I certainly wish that it were so, but given the low pass-rates on this test as just one data point among many, that's an assertion that's hard to defend.

Perhaps the test was too difficult? In fact it was no more difficult than the state's English language arts test for high school students. This is a dizzying, Kafkaesque argument: the notion that teachers don't have to possess the same skills as those demonstrated by their own students.

Currently, providers and school districts are facing enormous pressure to recruit and hire teachers of color, pressure that is exacerbated by the very short supply of such teachers, as we have written about here. The wrong response is to lower standards. The right response is to overhaul teacher pay structures and elevate the status of education as a choice of college major from its current sorry state. That happens by making it harder, not easier to enter the profession.

While there is good research describing the benefits of matching teacher and student race, let's remember that those benefits are based on studies involving black and white teachers of otherwise comparable ability. Any benefits from matching race are erased when we no longer make our first priority the effectiveness of a teacher or our best estimates about who will be effective. While it's uncomfortable to push back for fear of appearing insensitive to real problems of educational inequity, we must insist on prioritizing what's best for students—having the most skilled teacher.

— Kate Walsh

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Digging into the research

Principles for principals: How districts can support data-rich hiring

Data, data everywhere but not a drop to drink.

That's what many principals have concluded after gaining access to more data about teachers' past performance without understanding how to make the most of it during hiring. A recently published study by Marisa Cannata (Vanderbilt University) and her colleagues at the University of Michigan and North Carolina State University examines this challenge and identifies big and small steps district central offices can take to remedy the problem. Namely, the study highlights the need for districts to communicate about data availability and help principals use data to complement their professional judgment.

The researchers surveyed nearly 800 principals in multiple districts and followed up with a selection of interviews. Many principals are proactive in their approach to gathering relevant data (for example, they may ask applicants to bring previous teacher evaluations with them) and systematic in their approach to assessing a teacher's fit within their school. One principal describes a clever way to use his district's evaluation rubric for demonstration lessons:

….then we debrief about [the demonstration lesson] and even if [it has gone] well, it could still kind of lead to non-hire depending on how the debrief goes. We like to test that too, to see, "Okay, I've got to give them some feedback that's not all positive, and see how they can handle it." […] I'm not trying to be too critical, but if they're very combative right then and there, I go, "okay, maybe this isn't a good fit because we're going to be doing a lot of this throughout the course of the school year."

Other principals may not be as willing to go the extra mile to collect relevant data. In one district, a principal explained that while she didn't automatically have access to all the data she would like, reaching out to the district office to get that information was quick and easy. A fellow principal in the same district couldn't say the same—

It's not like I have a magic number I can call and go, "hey, can you get me…"
No, that's not how it works, and I wish it did.

Districts still have work to do to get principals on the same page about data quality and limitations, particularly when it comes to value-added data. As one VAM-skeptical principal explains:

I rarely use the [value-added] data in hiring just because I think that there's so many factors involved in [it] that it's hard to just look at that individually without knowing a person and watching them teach.

If this study makes one thing clear, it's that the distance between data collection and data use is long; bridging that gap will require comprehensive support and ongoing input from building leaders.

— Stephen Buckley

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Bias watch: Student discipline

For years, we've known that schools are more likely to discipline black and brown children in ways that force them to leave class (e.g., office referrals, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions), even when their offenses are no more serious than those committed by white students. There's no question it harms achievement and fuels the school-to-prison pipeline. After all, children have to be in school to get its benefits.

While the extent of this problem has been repeatedly quantified, its solutions have proven much harder to come by.

In a recent study, Constance A. Lindsay of American University and Cassandra M. D. Hart of the University of California, Davis, address the issue of unequal disciplinary practices. They examine six years worth of data in North Carolina, contrasting disciplinary actions that occur when black and white students are assigned to teachers of their own race with those that occur when the teacher is of a different race.

Consistent with the prevailing literature, the study finds that black students are disciplined less often when they have a greater proportion of black teachers. For example, if at least half of their teachers were black, they would anticipate a decline in disciplinary incidents of 3 percent (in high schools) to 9 percent (in elementary schools). This effect was largest for black male students. For white students, there was no evident disciplinary advantage or disadvantage when they had larger shares of black teachers.

The more teacher judgment was involved, the more likely that the discipline was meted out disproportionately. According to Lindsay and Hart, increasing the proportion of black teachers would lead to a substantial decrease in defiance-related discipline. Other studies have found a similar trend. In California, after large districts began to ban suspensions for "willful defiance," the total number of suspensions fell by nearly 30 percent and the overall racial discipline gap shrank substantially.

While hiring more teachers of color is everyone's go-to response, it's not a feasible solution given both current and projected demographics, as we've written about here. Instead, a comprehensive solution will include training and process improvements to support all teachers to respond differently.

— Sarah Heaton

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Other News

New online course helps teachers learn and practice the latest reading research

It's no secret that teacher prep programs often fail to teach scientifically based approaches to reading instruction. Our December 2016 analysis of undergraduate elementary teacher prep programs found that just 39 percent provide instruction in all five essential components of early reading instruction, leaving most future teachers unprepared.

Now, Dr. Deborah Glaser, a national expert in the teaching of literacy (and reviewer of hundreds of textbooks for us), has a solution -- an online course that focuses on the most up-to-date research in reading instruction and strategies to support that instruction.

The Reading Teacher's Top Ten Tools: Instruction that Makes a Difference is a self-paced, interactive professional development resource that helps teachers improve their reading instruction. The training program incorporates media-rich applications and interactive elements so teachers see how these best practices can enable actual students to learn key literacy skills.

The three-credit course guides teachers through ten tools: knowledge, oral language, phoneme awareness, phonics and spelling, vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, writing, read alouds, and collaboration models. New teachers and veterans alike will find the course crammed full with valuable information to enhance their students' reading abilities.

For more information about this course visit or email Dr. Glaser directly at

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< May 2017