Teachers

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...

  • The plight of boys in school, and particularly boys from underprivileged backgrounds, is a story we’ve all gotten used to hearing about. Whether in our home state of Ohio or in international educational utopias like Finland, young men are lagging behind their female classmates in testing performance, high school graduation, college attendance, and a slew of disciplinary issues. The New York Times’s Upshot blog has an article on the academic gender gap that delves into the existing research to reach a distressing conclusion: The cumulative stress of all social hindrances, from domestic violence to parental absence to poverty, impose a greater toll on boys than girls. Although girls in every setting are more likely than boys to be adequately prepared for kindergarten (and less likely to rack up absences once they begin), their comparative edge grows much wider within deprived populations like immigrant and low-income families. With forces like this arrayed against them, perhaps it’s no wonder that these boys are underrepresented in selective high schools and colleges.
  • Let’s take a moment to lavish some praise on a state whose merits are too seldom celebrated: Delaware. Last week, the First State became just the sixth state
  • ...

School leaders are responsible for nearly everything that happens in a school—from creating a positive culture to tracking data to evaluating instruction to hiring (or sometimes firing) the teachers who most affect student achievement. Despite this extraordinary amount of responsibility, many policymakers and reformers devote their time to crafting policies that affect teachers rather than principals. In light of this, we at Fordham began thinking over some important questions: Are schools doing an effective job of recruiting, selecting, and retaining great school leaders? Are principals being trained effectively, and is there meaningful ongoing support? Are principals empowered to make decisions and challenge the status quo? What’s the right balance between autonomy and accountability?

At a breakfast event on Tuesday, we hosted presentations and a panel discussion from a few experts in the field. First we talked with Dayton Public Schools (DPS) Superintendent Lori Ward, who shared how difficult it is for a large, urban district like hers to recruit and retain effective principals.

Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Lori Ward

Ward explained that of the 28 buildings in DPS, 20 are led by a principal with three...

The relationship between teacher experience and quality has been widely studied, as has the relationship between teacher experience and salary. The relationship between experience and total compensation—which includes both salary and retirement benefits—is often overlooked. In a new report, researchers from the Manhattan Institute have thrown open the curtains by calculating the total compensation for teachers with master’s degrees and varying years of experience in the country’s ten largest public school systems. They explain that, although the preponderance of research demonstrates that quality differences between teachers based upon experience tend to plateau after 5–7 years, most public school teachers still earn salaries according to fixed schedules that are based entirely on years of experience and advanced degrees. Retirement benefits are distributed in a similar way. Approximately 89 percent of public school teachers earn retirement benefits under final-average-salary-defined benefit (FAS-DB) pension plans, meaning that teachers earn a lifetime annuity available only after they reach their respective plans’ thresholds. These thresholds, like a salary schedule, are based on a combination of age and years of service. As a result, FAS-DB plans often backload retirement benefits.

The scale of backloading varies across plans. In New York City, for example, a teacher earns...

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