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TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin Newsletter



Quick look at what's inside....

The view from NCTQ
  • Can teachers afford a place to call home?
Digging into the research
  • How principals can change the culture around teacher evaluations
  • Border walls between states and their impact on kids

The view from NCTQ

Can teachers afford a place to call home?

Permit me to draw my inspiration from scripture, referencing the basic human needs of clothes on our backs, food to eat, and a shelter over our heads. How better to discern if in fact teacher salaries are where they need to be? Applying salary data from our Teacher Contract Database, we asked this question: are teachers paid enough to put a roof over their heads?

As we report in our most recent Teacher Trendline, some of what we learned isn't a surprise. Of course San Francisco and its neighbor across the bay, Oakland, have made themselves inhospitable locales, not just for teachers, but for the entire middle class. Sadly, no small number of districts--almost all of which hug our two coast lines--also qualify for this dubious honor.

But get this. There are quite a few in our sample of 124 large districts where housing appears affordable, yet homeownership is well out of reach of teachers, at least those who are not in dual-income households. That's because there's been no effort in those places to keep teacher salaries competitive with costs of living and comparable professions. Oklahoma City, El Paso, and Omaha are three such examples.

To calculate affordability, we looked at what a teacher would be earning in one of these districts after five years and having earned a master's degree. Obviously, as teacher salaries go up, homeownership becomes more doable, but we identify eight districts where a home is out of reach even when a teacher is at the top of the district's salary schedule.

But let's look on the bright side. Which districts are affordable? San Antonio, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Indianapolis top the list. Teacher recruiters, take note.

We also looked at a new teacher's ability to rent a one-bedroom apartment. There districts do a better job, with three quarters of them being affordable for rentals and Texas districts dominating the list of most affordable: Wichita (Nebraska) and El Paso, Arlington, Fort Worth, and Northside (all in Texas).

Our expectation that teachers should be able to rent an apartment in the district where they work prompted a bit of kerfuffle on Twitter from the ever-provocative Mike Petrilli:

I think I got the last word in, however:

— Kate Walsh

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Digging into the research

How principals can change the culture around teacher evaluations

Imagine a test where the only grades a student could earn were A or A-. Envision an update to Yelp that allows customers to rate restaurants using only 4 or 5 stars. Picture a panel of judges at an ice-skating competition where the only scorecards say 9 or 10.

That's what's going on with teacher evaluations, despite a long and brutish effort to get states and districts to do otherwise. Most teachers continue to receive high ratings and there's very little evidence that anyone is below average. (Our recent report, Running in Place, describes how state evaluation systems enable teachers to continue earning top ratings regardless of how their students fare.)

A recent study from Jason Grissom of Vanderbilt and Susanna Loeb of UCLA provides evidence that principals just aren't getting it.

Grissom and Loeb investigated how principals evaluate teachers formally versus how they view them privately. They selected roughly 100 principals from Miami-Dade Public Schools, asking them in interviews to evaluate four of their teachers. The rubric they used mirrored the district's formal evaluation framework.

Even in the informal setting, principals rated most of their teachers on the high end, but were still tougher than they were on the formal evaluation. With those, they rated fewer than one percent of their teachers as "ineffective" or "needs improvement" on any standard except professionalism. On the informal evaluation, they rated roughly 20 percent of teachers accordingly.

There is a silver lining. Yes, principals are reluctant to speak the truth, but the two sets of ratings did correlate. The teachers rated lower on the informal ratings were the lower rated teachers on the formal ratings. Better yet, both ratings correlated with teacher value-added scores, meaning that principals know good teaching from not-so-good teaching--they just don't call it out.

On a positive note, a recent analysis of a principal training program in Houston suggests that professional development of principals may help address these types of managerial challenges. In a school-level randomized field experiment in Houston, Roland Fryer (Harvard University) found that attention to increasing principal management skills led to statistically significant increases in teacher performance across the board, as measured by their student learning gains in just the first year. The training involved 300 hours across two calendar years with a focus on instructional planning, data-driven instruction, and, importantly, observation and coaching.

This benefit for teachers and students, coupled with the relatively low marginal cost of providing the professional development, makes principal management training worth considering.

— Sarah Heaton and Elizabeth Ross

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Border walls between states and their impact on kids

Despite how some organizations tend to discuss teacher supply, the United States doesn't have just one teacher labor market, but at least 50. Why is the labor market so fragmented? Each state creates its own teacher licensure policies and none of them employ a practical approach to licensure reciprocity. The result is a complex and expensive process for teachers who want to teach in another state. Couple this obstacle with inflexible pension systems and, voila, each state has its own labor market.

In that vein, a group of economists at the University of Missouri set out to learn how these 'walls' between states impact student achievement. To investigate, Dongwoo Kim, Cory Koedel, Shawn Ni, and Michael Podgursky devised a clever study comparing student achievement at schools that are within a few miles of a state border to schools that are not near state borders.

Why would that be telling? We know from previous research that teachers like to work close to where they live, so if various state policies make it difficult for teachers to move across state lines, those schools close to state lines would in theory have a smaller pool of teachers from which to recruit. This, in turn, might decrease teacher quality in those schools.

The results of this study prove the hypothesis correct. Using a 10-mile radius as each school's prime hiring market, the researchers determined that in schools where at least 25 percent of the potential teacher workforce lived across state lines, 8th grade math achievement was lower compared to that in schools that had access to all of the potential teacher workforce within 10 miles.

The authors note that although the effect is relatively small, there are over 600 schools that reside near state borders, thereby impacting the achievement levels of 670,000 students across the country.

One can imagine that in places like Dakota Valley School District, bordered by districts in Nebraska and Iowa, easier licensure reciprocity could be a big boon to teacher recruitment efforts.

One step states can take to ensure that students near the border don't miss out on the best teachers is to offer a standard teaching license to certified teachers from out of state--taking some of the border walls down.

— Kency Nittler

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ESSA Educator Equity Analyses

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< September 2017