Teachers

Based on a national sample of thirty-seven thousand public school teachers, this report from the National Center for Education Statistics’s School and Staffing Survey (SASS) looks at teacher autonomy in the classroom during the 2003–04, 2007–08, and 2011–12 school years. The news in brief: Teachers are somewhat less likely to feel that they have a great deal of autonomy than they have been in the past. But they still report a degree of professional freedom that most of us would surely envy.

To measure autonomy, researchers asked teachers how much “actual control” they have in their classrooms over six areas of planning and teaching: selecting textbooks and other classroom materials; content, topics, and skills to be taught; teaching techniques; evaluating and grading students; disciplining students; and determining the amount of homework to be assigned. Teacher autonomy is “positively associated with teachers’ job satisfaction and teacher retention,” the report notes. Those who perceive that they have less autonomy are “more likely to leave their positions, either by moving from one school to another or leaving the profession altogether.”

With nearly three out of four teachers still reporting a “great deal” of autonomy (down from 82 percent in 2003–04), it hardly seems...

  • To everyone except the students and educators who labor to start them, high-performing charter schools must seem like fully formed miracle factories. They sprout from Mark Zuckerberg’s largesse, produce outstanding academic results, and win facilities conflicts with crusading big-city mayors. This week, the Hechinger Report spins the incredible (and incredibly detailed) story of how these places actually come together. In three interlocking narratives focused on a first-time principal, a veteran teacher, and an incoming freshman, the account details the emergence of Brooklyn Ascend High in the daunting Brownsville neighborhood of New York City. The school, organized around an ideal of civic service and employing a nontraditional discipline structure, offers an ideal backdrop against which to examine the challenges of establishing an academic culture and galvanizing a faculty. For readers who wonder why more charter profiles can’t offer the fractured perspectives and compelling mystery of Rashomon, here’s your (regrettably samurai-less) answer.
  • The Texas Board of Education rules over the state’s textbooks like a juice-drunk toddler rules over his sandbox: utterly, and hilariously. If they’re not pondering the knotty question of whether to include creationism in science curriculum (guess I thought Spencer Tracy settled that one), they’re helpfully reinserting
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As 2015 comes to a close, the long-awaited reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will likely soon become a reality. Among many proposed changes is the jettisoning of the federal waiver requirement mandating teacher evaluations. Before critics rejoice and demand an immediate end to the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES), it would be wise to remember why evaluations were instituted in the first place: Several research studies indicate that while teacher quality isn't the only factor affecting student achievement, it is a significant one. Ensuring that all students have a good teacher is a worthy and important goal; without a system to evaluate and differentiate effective teachers from ineffective ones, though, it is impossible to achieve. It’s also worth noting that many of the evaluation systems that existed prior to federal waivers—those that were solely observation-based—failed to get the job done. Teacher evaluations have come a long way.

That being said, Ohio’s system needs some serious work. Fortunately, fixing evaluation policies isn’t without precedent: In 2012, only 30 percent of Tennessee teachers felt that teacher evaluations were conducted fairly. In 2015, after the Tennessee Department of Education ...

Most kids don’t willingly ask their grandfathers to retell his “endearing” story about how he used to trudge uphill to school every day through ten feet of snow. But last Thursday, students jumped at the opportunity to interview their older relatives as part of StoryCorps’s “Great Thanksgiving Listen,” and have uploaded more than thirty-seven thousand stories to date. Apart from giving kids a reason to avoid post-feast dish duties, StoryCorps aimed to bolster the collection of verbal histories it’s been gathering for the last decade. With applicability to history, government, civics, and journalism curricula, students and teachers were encouraged to participate in collecting their family’s narratives, which will be archived in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. For those expecting stories of slushy drudgery, the results were surprisingly rewarding. Students heard tales of living through the Great Depression and the personal battles of growing up in poverty- and violence-afflicted neighborhoods. So while you spent Thanksgiving in an insulin-induced coma, your niece was learning how to be both a historian and a journalist.

Those who can’t teach can study law, business, or medicine at Harvard—because teacher training is basically rocket science. That’s the spirit behind...

Like many, I’m convinced that what happens inside the classroom—curriculum and instruction—has as much of an impact (if not more) on student outcomes than structural reforms. For those who believe as I do, the revamped Elementary and Secondary Education Act has the potential to help states figure out how to hold schools accountable for student learning and what, if anything, to do about teacher evaluations. Let me throw out a few ideas.

“If you want more of something, subsidize it,” Ronald Reagan famously quipped. “If you want less of something, tax it.” During the No Child Left Behind era, test-driven accountability has too often stood Reagan’s maxim on its ear. Annual reading tests have practically required schools and teachers to forsake the patient, long-term investment in knowledge and vocabulary that builds strong readers, critical thinkers, and problem solvers. High-stakes accountability with annual tests that are not tied to course content (which reading tests are not) amounted to a tax on good things and a subsidy for bad practice: curriculum narrowing, test preparation, and more time spent on a “skills and strategies” approach to learning that doesn’t serve children well. Under the new ESEA, states will still have to test students...

A new Social Science Research study examines racial differences in how teachers perceive students’ overall literacy skills. It asks whether there are differences in these perceptions and to what extent they might be a reflection of a difference in actual abilities. In other words: Are teacher perceptions accurate?

The study uses data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, specifically those students enrolled in first grade during spring 2000 who had literacy test scores from kindergarten and first grade (ECLS-K administers a literacy test). Teachers were also asked to evaluate students’ overall ability relative to other first-grade students on a scale that ranges from “far below average” to “far above average.” The analyst controls for a host of student, teacher, and classroom variables in the regression analysis, including parental income and education, teacher race, percentage of poor students in the school, and more.

The study finds that, per the average performers, teachers were mostly accurate in labeling them so; there are no statistically significant racial differences in teacher ratings here. But among lower performers, teachers tend to rate minorities (Asian, non-white Latino, and black students) more positively than their performance suggests, while low-performing white students were rated more negatively than their...

Earlier this year, the RAND Corporation surveyed the 3,338 principals with current Teach For America (TFA) corps members at their schools. These principals are, on average, slightly less experienced and more racially diverse than American principals at large—and far more likely to run a charter school (27 percent work at charters).

In general, the survey’s results suggest that most principals who work with TFA corps members view them positively. Eighty percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the corps members at their schools; 86 percent said they would be willing to hire another corps member; and 66 percent would “definitely recommend” doing so. Moreover, a majority of respondents said corps members were at least as proficient as other novice teachers across a range of skills, including developing positive relationships with colleagues and administrators, having high expectations for students, and improving student performance. And 87 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the support TFA provides, which three-quarters agreed complemented their school’s induction or training.

Despite these generally positive findings, the survey identified two areas of concern: First, half of the respondents identified weak classroom management as a reason not to hire additional TFA corps members. Second, 57 percent...

In spite of some well-publicized controversies, performance-based teacher evaluations have maintained a strong presence in most states. A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) examines the policy landscape of teacher and principal evaluations, as well as various states’ successes in using evaluations to inform teacher practice and administrative decisions.

As of 2015, twenty-seven states require annual evaluations for all teachers, and forty-five require annual evaluations for all new, probationary teachers. Forty-three states require objective measures of student achievement to be included in teacher evaluations; seventeen use student growth as the “preponderant” criterion for evaluations; and an additional eighteen count growth measures as “significant” criteria.

Despite these new policies, however, a “troubling pattern” lingers on from the evaluation systems of yesteryear: The overwhelming majority of teachers are still labeled as “effective” or “highly effective.” NCTQ notes this could be the result of several factors, including the fact that few states utilize multiple observations and multiple observers—which is problematic because many principals are either unable or unwilling to “make distinctions about teacher skills” when conducting observations. In addition, Student Learning Objectives (SLOs)—which are required or allowed by twenty-two states—fail to effectively differentiate teacher performance. According to...

Teachers affect student academic achievement more than any other school-based factor. As a result, states and school districts have experimented with incentive pay programs as a twofold strategy to both attract high-quality teachers and boost student performance. Evidence on the effectiveness of this tactic is mixed, but the policies can differ greatly in structure, and little is known about how the design of incentive plans might impact their effectiveness.

Enter a new National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) study that examines the structure of Houston’s recently implemented incentive pay system, as well as its effect on student achievement.

The researchers analyzed data from grades 3–8 from the Houston Independent School District’s (HISD) merit pay system, ASPIRE (“Accelerating Student Progress, Increasing Results and Expectations”). ASPIRE is designed as a “rank-order tournament,” which rewards top-performing math, reading, language arts, science, and social studies teachers based on their value-added scores (estimates of the effect individual teachers have on student learning over a school year). Under ASPIRE, teachers receive a $3,870 bonus if their students receive value-added scores above the fiftieth percentile; scores above the seventy-fifth percentile result in even larger bumps—up to $7,700 per teacher.

The authors initially hypothesized that teachers who...

Last week, in the wake of President Obama’s pledge to reduce the amount of time students spend taking tests, my colleagues Robert Pondiscio and Michael Petrilli weighed in with dueling stances on the current state of testing and accountability in America’s schools. Both made valid points, but neither got it exactly right, so let me add a few points to the conversation.

Like Robert, I don’t see how we can improve our schools if we don’t know how they’re doing, which means we need the data we get from standardized tests. But I also believe that—because we’re obligated to intervene when kids aren’t getting the education they deserve—some tests must inevitably be “high-stakes.” The only real alternative to this is an unregulated market, which experience suggests is a bad idea.

Must this logic condemn our children to eternal test-preparation purgatory? I hope not, but I confess to some degree of doubt. The challenge is creating an accountability system that doesn't inadvertently encourage gaming or bad teaching. Yet some recent policy shifts seem to have moved us further away from that kind of system.

As Mike noted, the problem of over-testing has been exacerbated in recent years by the...

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