Teachers

Hiring a teacher should be like buying a house. But according to a new report from Bellwether Education Partners, California treats the process like it’s purchasing a widget. And this is the wrong mindset when the state is experiencing a shortage in teachers—especially those trained to educate its diverse population of six million children.

The problem, it turns out, isn’t money. Thanks to a new funding formula, California schools will receive $3,000 more per student in the 2015–16 school year than in 2011–12, a 45 percent increase. Instead, the state lacks viable candidates and high-quality training programs. During the 2013–14 school year, for example, the state needed to hire twenty-one thousand teachers, yet it only awarded credentials to 14,810—a decrease of one-third from five years ago.

So where are all the teachers? Pursuing other professions now that the labor market has finally improved, the report surmises. Moreover, millennials aren’t hustling into teaching programs because they don’t rate the profession as prestigious or ambitious as other options, says Bellwether.

Teacher preparedness is equally problematic. California suffered a similar shortage in the 1990s and started hiring teachers with no experience by using emergency permits. Some worry that the state is headed in...

The New Teacher Project’s recent study indicating that billions of dollars are largely wasted on ineffective professional development has raised a question central to all of our reform efforts: How do we make teachers better?

This new brief from the RAND Corporation, representing the preliminary observations of their ongoing assessment of the Leading Educators Fellowship program, attacks that question from the angle of mentoring and teacher leadership. Leading Educators is a national nonprofit that selects and develops exceptional mid-career teachers, training them to act as guides for their less experienced peers and spearhead improvement efforts in their schools. Its specific aims are to inculcate leadership skills among participants in the two-year fellowship, boost the achievement of students taught by both fellows and their mentees, and increase teacher retention in high-need schools. The organization’s own characterization of the study asserts that the program has now graduated over three hundred fellows. That cohort has mentored approximately 2,500 teachers, affecting by extension some sixty-nine thousand students in New Orleans, Memphis, Kansas City, and Washington, D.C.

The report compared program participants (both fellows and mentee teachers) to people who had applied and been rejected, as well as other teachers deemed similar by...

This study examines the effect of market fluctuations on teacher quality. Using reading and math scores of students who took the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test between the 2000–2001 and 2008–2009 school years, the authors construct valued-added scores for thirty-three thousand Florida teachers, then test to see if a number of business cycle indicators (such as unemployment and GDP) predict these scores.

Based on these data, they estimate that teachers who enter the profession during a recession are more effective at teaching math and English language arts than non-recession teachers (by 0.10 and 0.05 standard deviations, respectively). They arrive at slightly larger estimates for male and minority teachers and those entering the profession later in life.

According to the authors, increases in the supply of effective teachers, rather than decreases in demand or differences in attrition, account for the superior quality of teachers hired during recessions. Presumably, these increases are driven by a decline in the quality of alternative employment opportunities for these individuals, some or all of which reflects a decline in their expected earnings relative to those of teachers.

Following this line of reasoning, the study bears two implications: First, recessions are a great time for the government or...

It’s that time of year: Parents are perusing the back-to-school section with their perhaps not-so-eager-to-return-to-school children. Teachers, meanwhile, are gearing up for—or are already attending—in-service and professional development sessions that aim to prepare them for the year ahead. While studying class lists, decorating classrooms, and prepping lesson plans for a new year is exciting for teachers (trust me, walking into the teacher store before a new school year is just like coming downstairs on Christmas morning), the black cloud of professional development (PD) looms. And then it remains.

In a new report entitled The Mirage, TNTP (the nonprofit that brought us The Widget Effect) took a deep dive into teacher PD in three large traditional districts and one midsize charter network. The findings were not pleasant. In the traditional districts, an average of approximately $18,000 was spent on development per teacher, per year—totaling anywhere from 5 to 11 percent of the districts’ annual operating budgets. Overall, district teachers spent about 10 percent of their typical school year in PD. Despite all that time, however, ratings showed only three out of every ten teachers substantially improved their performance, based on the districts’ own evaluations. While beginning teachers...

  • The notion of character education is pretty well understood by now. If successfully imparted to disadvantaged children, advocates claim, personal qualities like grit, gratitude, and optimism can steer them to beneficial habits and help them catch up with their more well-to-do classmates. “No-excuses” charter networks like KIPP have energetically publicized their commitment to the philosophy, monitoring students’ progress in the development of such traits. But a piece in the New Republic takes a more dubious stance. The author, whose initial interest in KIPP’s approach cooled after taking part in program founder Dave Levin’s online class, writes that his newfound reservations about character education are threefold: Nobody actually knows how to teach character; it’s being taught in a morality-neutral way; and it narrows the scope of education. Some of the article’s assertions are downright goofy (“While it takes grit and self-control to be a successful heart surgeon, the same could be said about a suicide bomber.” Dude, what?), but he’s right that there’s still too little evidence of positive character maturation driven by initiatives like KIPP’s. And our obsession with “performance character” should be matched with equal concern for “moral character.” Clearly the subject is ripe for
  • ...

As a teacher, I measured professional development on a spectrum from “vaguely aligned” (we played math games!) to “I’d rather be teaching phonics right now” (any session that involved someone reading, verbatim, from a packet I had in hand). The midpoint was “at least it’s free grading time,” which was how I, an early childhood teacher, viewed any session on standardized test reading passages. But while I was frequently frustrated, I thought it was a problem specific to me; somewhere out there, I reasoned, there was PD that could help a teacher improve. And anyway, it was only a couple of days a year—not too significant.

Not exactly, says this new report from TNTP, which dug deep into the efficacy and size of three districts’ (and one charter network’s) investments in teacher professional development; it found the efforts outsized and the payoffs lacking. Researchers looked at three districts and provided low, medium, and high estimates of the annual cost of PD, which were based on which line items one included in the final price tag. On the low end—comprising only teacher time and baseline expenditures to host the PD—districts spent at least $50 million each year. On the high end—when...

A new study by Bellwether Education Partners examines the changes to teacher pension systems over the last thirty years. The report uses an historical data set from the Wisconsin Retirement Research Committee (RRC) and the state legislature that includes data from public employee pension plans in eighty-seven retirement systems across all fifty states. The data span from 1982 to 2012 and are based on annual reports, employee handbooks, statutes, and actuarial reports. Analysts examine defined benefit plans only—and, to facilitate comparisons, only the plans offered to hypothetical newly hired, twenty-five-year-old teachers who remain in those plans in each state. Analysts note several trends that have developed over the last thirty years, including:

  1. The median state offers a much lower vesting period compared to several decades ago, dropping from ten years to five years.
  2. States began lowering the normal retirement age in the 1990s and continued into the 2000s. But in recent years, states have increased the retirement age, which decreases retirement benefits and results in fewer years collecting a pension. In 2012 alone, nineteen plans increased their normal retirement age for new teachers, pushing the average retirement from age fifty-five to fifty-eight.
  3. Average employee contribution rates remained relatively constant throughout
  4. ...
  • You know how the old ditty goes: Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, Chris Christie gotta churlishly analogize all political conflict to a bar fight. In an interview this week, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked the New Jersey governor which political adversary he’d most like to “punch in the face”; without reframing the question, he launched into one of his trademark diatribes against teachers’ unions. Everyone knows that Christie’s a combative politician who has struggled mightily to get his state’s public employee pension system under control. And Fordham yields to no one in our antipathy for union excess and overreach. But viable leaders can’t allow themselves to be baited into silly threats against political constituencies that aren’t going away. Teachers’ unions are to be curbed, cajoled, prodded, persuaded, and challenged. Not cold-cocked.
  • We’re not sure if it has anything to do with those infamous cooling towers, but something strange must be behind a wave of uncomfortable honesty overtaking New York City. First, a recent graduate of Queens’s William Cullen Bryant High School wrote a letter to the New York Post claiming that she hadn’t actually earned the credits counting toward her diploma. The eighteen-year-old skipped class,
  • ...

A new study by Dan Goldhaber and colleagues provides loads of descriptive data that document the extent and depth of the teacher quality gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Dan and many others have produced research that repeatedly shows that disadvantaged kids get the short end of the stick when it comes to high-quality teachers. But the bottom line of this latest study is that this inequitable distribution of teachers plays out no matter how you define teacher quality (experience, teacher licensure exam score, or value-added estimates) and no matter how you define student disadvantage (free-and-reduced-priced lunch status, underrepresented minority status, or low prior academic performance).

The analysts use grades 3–10 data from Washington State for the 2011–12 school year. They target fourth-grade classrooms in particular, then replicate their analysis for the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Here’s a summary of their findings: The distribution of prior-year value-added estimates for teachers of students on free and reduced-price lunch is routinely lower than the distribution for fourth graders who aren’t eligible for the lunch program. Low-income fourth graders are also more likely to have teachers who earned lower scores on the teacher licensure exam. Worse, the distribution of low-quality teachers...

Editor's note: This post is the second in a series reflecting on the author's first year as superintendent at the Partnership Schools, a nonprofit school management organization that (thanks to an historic agreement with the Archdiocese of New York) was granted broad authority to manage and operate six pre-K–8 urban Catholic schools.

Last week, Eliza Shapiro published an article at Capitol New York that explored the “charter-like” approach the Partnership for Inner-City Education is bringing to its Catholic schools. In many ways, that characterization is true. We are, after all, partnering with some pioneers from the charter world. And we’re implementing many of the best practices that so many of us have learned from the most successful CMOs.

At the same time, though, there is a lot that it misses. We are much more than “charter-like schools”; we’re Catholic schools. And our rich history is the foundation of what we do. Some of the differences are obvious: We can wear our faith on our sleeve and teach values unequivocally. We teach religion. We prepare students for the sacraments. We operate on shoestring budgets.

But there are other differences that have a more subtle—but perhaps more profound—impact on the work...

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