Teachers

After a controversial change to a state law, what happens on the ground? This piece, from last month’s meeting of the Association for Education Finance and Policy, delves into one such case. In 2012, Ohio lawmakers approved the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES), which requires evaluations be based on student-academic-growth measures, formal observations, and classroom walkthroughs. This study examines whether local teacher-collective-bargaining agreements negotiated after OTES was adopted allow the evaluation results to be used in personnel decisions (the authors called this “bridging”)—or if they protect experienced or tenured teachers’ jobs regardless of their evaluation scores (“buffering”). The authors found that all of the fifteen contracts they studied are essentially bridging when it came to evaluation policies, meaning that the contracts match well with state law and allow principals to use growth measures, observations, and walkthroughs when evaluating teachers. However, results were quite different when it came to actually using OTES to make decisions: the researchers discovered that four of five contracts are buffering when they examined a variety of specific provisions. For example, most contracts contain buffering provisions that keep seniority as a consideration when making reductions in force. Some even keep seniority as the primary or sole means of deciding who is laid off first, in spite of state law to the contrary. Regarding transfers, only three districts have bridging contracts that give administrators discretion to fill vacancies; most keep seniority as a consideration, and none explicitly require the use of OTES scores in transfer decisions. For tenure...

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High-quality teachers are distributed across schools in patterns that resemble life in the desert, fleeing harsh terrain for soothing oases, fleeing poorer schools for more affluent. This report from the Center for American Progress analyzes the policies that regulate the equitable distribution of teachers and recommends policy changes that could lead some teachers to choose the more challenging environments for themselves. First, the researchers reaffirmed that despite the many equity-promoting provisions of NCLB, disparities in teacher quality persist: experienced, effective teachers, who hold at least some the keys to closing student achievement gaps, are disproportionately absent from low-income and minority schools. CAP recommends that states and districts develop systems that link teacher-effectiveness data to pupil achievement in order to identify high-quality instructors and track teacher movement. With that information, states and districts can tackle the distribution challenge by altering school-finance disparities and making sure that effective teachers receive proper compensation at all schools. The federal government should monitor that data and hold states accountable for their teacher distribution policies. Though the author of this report emphasizes the need for bold changes, she objects to heavy-handed approaches like forced teacher relocation. Instead, states and districts should work on incentives and transparency, developing rewards and job supports that will foster a positive work environment and encourage growth among all teachers.

SOURCE: Glenda L. Partee, Attaining Equitable Distribution of Effective Teachers in Public Schools (Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress, April 2014)....

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Dara and Brickman enthuse about early-talent identification programs, rue Indiana’s subpar state standards, and wonder how much is too much to pay superintendents. Amber finds little to no connection between a popular pre-K quality measure and pupil outcomes. Amber's Research Minute “ Do Standard...

Just how generous are public pension plans? In this AEI report, Andrew Biggs tabulates the benefits—including pension and Social Security benefits, but not including health care benefits—that an average, full-career, state employee who retired in 2011 or 2012 now receives and compares the total with the income of full-time, full-year employees in his state. (Bear in mind that twenty-two states include teachers in their state retirement systems, while twenty-seven have separate systems for them.) In the average case, a retired state employee enjoys combined pension/Social Security income greater than the income of 72 percent of full-time employees working in his/her state. At the less generous end of this spectrum we find Maine, where benefits to full-career government employees (including teachers) exceed the earnings of 31 percent of full-time workers. At the high end is Oregon, where state retirees (including teachers) exceed the earnings of 90 percent of full-time workers in the Beaver State. (You read that right.) Other exceptionally generous states include West Virginia, California, and Nevada, all of which pay average full-career state retirees benefits that exceed 87–89 percent of the wages earned by full-time workers in those jurisdictions. Biggs also examines replacement rates, which measure retirement income as a percentage of pre-retirement earnings. Most financial advisors recommend a replacement rate of 70 percent, meaning that one’s retirement benefits (including Social Security) should equal 70 percent of one’s pre-retirement salary. Well, Biggs finds that the replacement rate paid to an average full-career state employee is 87 percent of final...

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Dallas Independent School District (DISD) superintendent Mike Miles has been on the job in Texas less than two years and he hasn't always had easy sledding there.

But he hasn't hunkered down or blown with the gale-level political winds of a city that's had eleven superintendents in the past quarter century.

In particular, he has incubated and refined the pioneering teacher-evaluation-and-compensation plan that brought Dr. Miles to national attention in his previous post in Harrison, CO.

In my experience, what Miles developed in the shadow of the Rockies and now seeks to adapt and apply in the Lone Star State embodies the most sophisticated approach that the U.S. has seen (sorry, MET project!) to combining the multiple elements of a teacher's performance that deserve consideration with a thoughtful yet affordable structure for compensating that teacher in a way that's fair but also performance-linked. (Actually, the fundamental structure of this plan is compatible with the MET findings about the best ways to gauge teacher effectiveness.)

Dallas is a much larger school district than Harrison—and much pricklier for all sorts of reasons. But Miles has persevered, and in the next few weeks, the DISD school board is expected to adopt his “Teacher Excellence Initiative.”

I can't count votes on the DISD board, but I do know this: the plan makes sense, the kids will benefit (and Lord knows Dallas kids have nowhere to go but up), and...

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No one disputes that great teachers are essential. But how do we get more of them—do we find them or make them? In this book, an elaboration of her New York Times Magazine cover story, Chalkbeat’s Elizabeth Green roundly refutes the narrative that the teaching ability is like a “gene,” contending instead that teaching skills can be taught. The author retraces the history of pedagogical research—from education psychologist Nate Gage through math pedagogy expert Deborah Ball—to illustrate the institutional resistance to instruction-centered reforms. Though scholars, policy makers, and educators are obsessed with quality teaching, the myth of the teaching gene silences efforts to study and improve teachers’ techniques. New instructors, working in isolation, continually reinvent the wheel, with little success. But perhaps that’s starting to change. Some researchers are beginning to systematically observe and record teachers’ methods, allowing successful approaches to emerge. (For instance: Lemov’s taxonomy and Ball’s “This Kind of Teaching.”) This book bears good news for the American education community: if effective pedagogy can be learned, we needn’t wait for great teachers to come to the profession—we can start improving the ones we have.

SOURCE: Elizabeth Green, Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone) (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, July 2014)....

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Mike and Michelle acknowledge that school board members, for better and sometimes worse, affect student outcomes in their districts. But they don’t have to accept the misleading headlines on Indiana’s standards debacle (a case study in the hazards of politicization if there ever was one), nor must...
Mike and Brickman consider whether “college for all” is the right goal, whether a competitive assessment marketplace will be good for Common Core implementation in the long run, and whether Wyoming is better off without the Next Generation Science Standards. Amber drops a line about online learning...

Education Gadfly Weekly

Opinion + Analysis: 
Opinion
The modern education-reform movement is essentially made up of two distinct but complementary strands: one focuses primarily on raising K–12 academic expectations, particularly for poor and minority students, who have long been held to lower standards than their middle-class and affluent peers. The...
Briefly Noted
Perhaps New York mayor Bill de Blasio is starting to see that attacking charter schools is a better Democratic-primary strategy than governing philosophy. This turn of events can be illustrated by his appearance earlier this week on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show , where he encountered a surprisingly...
Reviews: 
Working Paper
Just because the label on that pint of ice cream says it’s “fat free” doesn’t mean it won’t expand your waistline—and just because a textbook is labeled “Common Core aligned” doesn’t mean it actually covers the material it’s supposed to. In this new study (which has already garnered some serious...
Journal Article
Research has repeatedly found that being a firstborn can come with advantages—they tend to be natural leaders , have higher IQ’s , and are often chosen to portray James Bond . They also perform better in school. This new NBER study sheds light on why this is so, testing the conventional wisdom that...
Report
New York mayor Bill de Blasio has made clear his aversion toward charter schools , singling out in particular his predecessor’s policy of allowing charter schools to co-locate with the city’s traditional public schools for free. But what impact has charter co-location actually had on New York’s...
Study
“Grit” is a hot new buzzword—and what some believe to be the key to whether a student succeeds. But this study takes a slightly different tack, demonstrating a link between a teacher’s grit and her effectiveness and longevity in the classroom. The authors determined the “grittiness” of a selection...
Gadfly Studios: 
Podcast
Mike and Leo Casey of the Shanker Institute prepare to duke it out over New York’s charter school debate, education finance, and whether positive school trends mean reform is unnecessary—but end up with surprisingly similar conclusions. After studying the effects of birth order, Amber is surprised...

The modern education-reform movement is essentially made up of two distinct but complementary strands: one focuses primarily on raising K–12 academic expectations, particularly for poor and minority students, who have long been held to lower standards than their middle-class and affluent peers. The second is aimed at expanding education choice through various mechanisms, chiefly charter schools and vouchers.

Unfortunately, these reforms have often been pursued in isolation, with advocates pushing for one or the other but not both together. Some even claim...

Perhaps New York mayor Bill de Blasio is starting to see that attacking charter schools is a better Democratic-primary strategy than governing philosophy. This turn of events can be illustrated by his appearance earlier this week on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show, where he encountered a surprisingly sharp round of questioning from the roundtable of (left-leaning) hosts on the matter. The New York Times notes that de Blasio is softening his rhetoric and reaching out to charter groups “more sympathetic” to his administration. With his approval rating already down to 39 percent—just ten weeks after...

Just because the label on that pint of ice cream says it’s “fat free” doesn’t mean it won’t expand your waistline—and just because a textbook is labeled “Common Core aligned” doesn’t mean it actually covers the material it’s supposed to. In this new study (which has already garnered some serious attention from the press), USC assistant professor (and alum of Fordham and AEI’s...

Research has repeatedly found that being a firstborn can come with advantages—they tend to be natural leaders, have higher IQ’s, and are often chosen to portray James Bond. They also perform better in school. This new NBER study sheds light on why this is so, testing the conventional wisdom that earlier-born siblings put more effort in school and perform better than their later-born siblings partly because their parents are more strict with them. Using the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (which includes data from parent surveys), they track outcomes for children as they transition between the...

New York mayor Bill de Blasio has made clear his aversion toward charter schools, singling out in particular his predecessor’s policy of allowing charter schools to co-locate with the city’s traditional public schools for free. But what impact has charter co-location actually had on New York’s public schools? This timely report from the Manhattan Institute digs in, measuring the academic growth of public school students in grades 3–8 in math and English language arts over five years. When the author compared individual students’ test scores before and after co-location or when the co-locating charter schools expanded (taking up more space in the building), he uncovered no evidence to suggest...

“Grit” is a hot new buzzword—and what some believe to be the key to whether a student succeeds. But this study takes a slightly different tack, demonstrating a link between a teacher’s grit and her effectiveness and longevity in the classroom. The authors determined the “grittiness” of a selection of first- and second-year teachers via a blind rating system of their résumés, awarding points to individuals who remained in activities (sports, clubs, and so on) for more than two years and extra points for high achievement in those areas. Then, the researchers assessed the teachers’ performance via their students’ proficiency on a standardized assessment. The teachers who were most effective possessed demonstrably higher grit ratings than their counterparts. Grittier teachers were also more likely to complete the school year. Other measures—such as demographic characteristics,...

“Grit” is a hot new buzzword—and what some believe to be the key to whether a student succeeds. But this study takes a slightly different tack, demonstrating a link between a teacher’s grit and her effectiveness and longevity in the classroom. The authors determined the “grittiness” of a selection of first- and second-year teachers via a blind rating system of their résumés, awarding points to individuals who remained in activities (sports, clubs, and so on) for more than two years and extra points for high achievement in those areas. Then, the researchers assessed the teachers’ performance via their students’ proficiency on a standardized assessment. The teachers who were most effective possessed demonstrably higher grit ratings than their counterparts. Grittier teachers were also more likely to complete the school year. Other measures—such as demographic characteristics, school assignment, SAT scores, college GPA, and leadership abilities—did not yield the same statistically significant correlation. The researchers concluded that strong teachers can be identified during the hiring process through a careful examination of the right personality traits, which manifest in teachers’ high-school and college activities. Principals, take heed!

SOURCE: Claire Robertson-Kraft and Angela Lee Duckworth, “True Grit: Trait-Level Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals Predicts Effectiveness and Retention among Novice Teachers,” Teachers College Record 116(3).

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