Teachers

Nearly ten years ago, Congress established the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF). A total $1.8 billion has been disbursed since then by the U.S. Department of Education to districts to accomplish four tasks: overhaul their teacher evaluation systems, create merit pay bonuses based on them, give educators opportunities to take on additional responsibility for more money, and offer professional development to support teachers in their efforts to hit these higher marks.

Under the TIF program, bonuses are supposed to be “substantial, differentiated, challenging to earn, and based solely on educators’ effectiveness.” Since this evaluation shows that 60 percent of teachers received a bonus in a subgroup of districts studied, it’s fair to wonder just how challenging to earn they really were. Moreover, understanding of the program still seems sub-optimal. In the second year of implementation, more teachers understood their eligibility for bonuses and how they were being evaluated than in the first year. “Yet more than one-third [38 percent] of teachers still did not understand they were eligible for a bonus,” the report notes. “And teachers continued to underestimate the potential size of the bonuses, believing that the largest bonuses were only about two-fifths the size of the actual maximum bonuses...

TNTP’s new report, “The Mirage,” is essential reading for anyone interested in educator effectiveness. It’s smartly researched and delivers an uppercut of a conclusion: Today's professional development doesn’t work.

There’s just one small problem. I’m not sure I believe it.

To trust its findings would mean admitting that we’ve wasted hundreds of billions of dollars. It would mean we’ve misled millions of educators and families about improving the profession. It would mean a load-bearing wall of the Race-to-the-Top and ESEA-waiver talent architecture is made of sand. All of this would be hard to swallow, but I suppose it’s possible.

But to accept and act on these findings would mean putting our full faith in today’s approach to evaluating educator effectiveness. It would mean believing generations of schools, school systems, PD providers, institutions of higher education, and parents were wrong when it comes to assessing and improving teacher performance. For me, this is a bridge too far.

The study encompassed four large school operators and surveyed thousands of educators. It used multiple measures to assess teacher effectiveness and tried to find variables that influenced whether a teacher improved (things like “growth mindset,” school culture, and access to different types of...

  • If Pennsylvania Avenue’s barricaded sidewalks didn’t make it obvious, the whooshing pantaloons of the Swiss Guard certainly will—Pope Francis is officially touring the capital! And while his three-day visit will be punctuated by extensive coverage of the Church’s role in American life and politics, Kavitha Cardoza’s piece on the fate of urban Catholic education is our recommended read (or listen) for anyone intrigued by the issue of school choice. Initially established as alternatives for the children of European immigrant families (who objected to compulsory Protestant indoctrination in nineteenth-century classrooms), Catholic schools grew to serve five million students by their 1960s peak. Since then, tuition increases and fraying religious communities in inner cities have sliced that number by more than half, but optimistic signs exist. As one of Cardoza’s sources remarks, last year’s drop in national Catholic school enrollment was the lowest since 2000, and the decline has substantially slowed over the past few years. That’s a dramatic turnaround from 2008, the year that the pope last visited and Fordham issued its gloomy dispatch on Catholic education, amid freefalling enrollment and tumult in the Church. For families seeking the combination of educational rigor and moral direction that
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The possible existence of a gender bias in the classroom is not a new controversy. Research has shown that, consciously or not, some teachers treat students differently according to gender; they may give boys more (or different types of) attention, encourage boys more in certain subjects and girls in others, and otherwise interact with each gender differently.

Economists Victor Lavy and Edith Sand bring us an important continuation of that work with a National Bureau of Economic Research paper that explores whether students are exposed to gender bias during elementary school. It then examines whether that exposure has an impact on students’ later academic achievement.

Their study follows approximately three thousand elementary school students and eighty teachers from twenty-five different elementary schools in Israel. They first ask: Is there gender bias? In other words, do teachers believe one gender is academically stronger than the other when there’s actually no difference (or even if the preferred gender is actually doing worse)? The answer to this question is yes. By comparing a teacher’s assessment of a student’s performance in a variety of subjects to the student’s scores on external exams in the same subject, the researchers find that girls outscore boys on...

  • With the Washington State Supreme Court’s ruling against the constitutionality of charter schools and a sudden teachers’ strike breaking out in Seattle, education observers across the country would be justified in wondering whether anyone will actually be starting school this month in the Evergreen State. The court’s decision, which hurls the future of nine freshly opened schools into immediate uncertainty, has been greeted with more drama thus far (no surprise, since its legal rationale has been deemed quixotic, and its consequences will certainly be disruptive to the 1,200 students who may now have to seek schooling elsewhere). But dumping labor unrest atop this catastrophe will make matters inconceivably worse. Leaders in all three branches of the state’s government simply must come together to resolve this double crisis.
  • We’ve all got portmanteaus that we despise. For the Gadfly’s money, “telephone” worked perfectly well without being combined with “marketing.” But the New York Times has introduced a new mashup that may be as promising to students as it is painful to the ear: “teacherpreneur.” Using online tools like Youtube and TeachersPayTeachers.com, skilled instructors have been able to develop markets for their unique lesson plans and materials—and make
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  • The myth of America’s teacher shortage, like your older brother’s stories about alligators in the sewers and malevolent hitchhikers stalking the roadways, poses an intriguing question: If we’re going to invent fanciful stories for our own amusement, why do they have to be scary ones? In an in-depth piece for Chalkbeat Indiana, Shaina Cavazos debunks ominous reports of a teacher deficit in the Hoosier State with a lot of the same data and arguments that contradict the broader notion of a national shortage. While some districts are facing a lack of qualified applicants, our education schools are still pumping out way more graduates than there are open positions for them to fill. Longer-term trends—the perennial difficulty of attracting young educators to rural areas and the gradual retirement of the Baby Boom workforce—generally account for those anecdotal reports of professional scarcity, but macro-level teacher employment has actually increased over the last ten years. Maybe now we can get back to more pressing problems, like exorcising the ghost of Elvis Presley.
  • Nobody likes the fellow who shows up early for work every day. Smug at his desk, he’s already dutifully responding to his emails while the rest of us
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A new analysis from Matthew A. Kraft at Brown University links the characteristics of laid-off teachers to changes in student achievement. The analysis was conducted in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), which laid off just over a thousand teachers as a result of the Great Recession in 2009 and 2010. Since North Carolina is one of five states where collective bargaining is illegal, a discretionary layoff policy was used rather than the more common “last-hired, first-fired” (sometimes referred to as LIFO—last in, first out) method. CMS identified candidates for layoffs based on five general criteria: duplicative positions, enrollment trends, job performance, job qualifications, and length of service.

Kraft estimates the effects of these layoffs on student achievement by using both principal observation scores (which directly informed layoffs) and value-added scores (which were not used to make layoff decisions). This enabled him to compare the impact of a teacher layoff based on subjective and objective measures of effectiveness. The good news for CMS students is that, overall, laid-off teachers received lower observation scores from principals and had lower value-added scores in math and reading compared to their counterparts who weren’t laid off. Kraft found that math achievement in grades that lost an...

A new working paper by American University public policy professor Seth Gershenson examines whether a “match” of students and teachers by race has any effect on teacher expectations of students. What is the result, for example, of white instructors teaching black students versus white students? What about other racial combinations?

Gershenson used nationally representative survey data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS) for U.S. students who were in tenth grade in 2002. There were over sixteen thousand student-teacher matches, which included various demographic data about the students and teachers. And each student’s tenth-grade math and English teachers reported their expectations for that student’s educational attainment, with possible responses ranging from those not finishing high school to those completing a four-year degree.

To ensure that any differences were systematic rather than random—which would suggest that teacher beliefs are at least partly explained by student demographics—Gershenon designed his study carefully. For example, he made use of various demographic variables to rule out systematic sorting (whereby, for instance, low-ability math students may be routinely assigned to white math teachers). The ELS administration was also set up so that a student’s two teachers offer their assessments at the same point in time....

A new analysis from Matthew A. Kraft at Brown University links the characteristics of laid-off teachers to changes in student achievement. The analysis was conducted in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), which laid off just over a thousand teachers as a result of the Great Recession in 2009 and 2010. Since North Carolina is one of five states where collective bargaining is illegal, a discretionary layoff policy was used rather than the more common “last-hired, first-fired” (sometimes referred to as LIFO—last in, first out) method. CMS identified candidates for layoffs based on five general criteria: duplicative positions, enrollment trends, job performance, job qualifications, and length of service.

Kraft estimates the effects of these layoffs on student achievement by using both principal observation scores (which directly informed layoffs) and value-added scores (which were not used to make layoff decisions). This enabled him to compare the impact of a teacher layoff based on subjective and objective measures of effectiveness. The good news for CMS students is that, overall, laid-off teachers received lower observation scores from principals and had lower value-added scores in math and reading compared to their counterparts who weren’t laid off. Kraft found that math achievement in grades that lost an...

  • As traditionalist gift givers are no doubt aware, the tenth anniversary metal is tin. Last week, with a slew of ten-year retrospectives and events commemorating the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, a longtime reform critic traded in her responsible commentator’s hat for one of those nifty ones made from tin foil. Business journalist Andrea Gabor, who has spent years grinding an axe against school choice and high standards, attempted to bury it in the back of the New York Times with a breathless op-ed decrying the “myth” of the post-hurricane New Orleans schools revival. The Seventy Four quickly published a rebuttal of the simple factual inaccuracies in Gabor’s piece, and reform-friendly superintendent John White wrote a paean to the city’s charter district and the educators who work there. But the best response has come from liberal pundit Jonathan Chait, who defended high-achieving charters as “one of the most impressive triumphs of American social policy.” New Orleans still hasn’t completely turned around a school system that was irrevocably broken even before the storm. But after a decade of progress, it’s attracted allies from across the spectrum, and that’s something to celebrate.
  • Franz Kafka is most famous
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