Teachers

I have been blessed with a few decades worth of work in education policy, and I have never seen a moment with more potential.

While it is possible and valid to reflect on the last twenty years and be disappointed that we didn’t make blistering-fast progress, it’s just as valid to be proud of the accomplishments we have made: reliable information about school performance, better evidence about key factors in school success, and the emergence of a whole new set of education choices that show what is possible.

Teachers have been the engines behind the best of what has transpired in the past two decades, and we rely on their initiative to create the best models of schooling going forward. This is as it should be.

In most professions, those who specialize in their techniques attract clients drawn to their work and success. In short, they can bring their skills to the marketplace and succeed there. In schooling, too, many moons ago, this was the case. It was teachers who created the design of a local school meant to serve the students in a particular area.

In our broader public-education sector, however, we gradually eroded this leadership role for teachers in the early part of the twentieth century. That was a loss. But today, that role is resurging, and we must see our “five-star” teachers and school leaders—not state policies—as those will drive success.

At the end of the day, success in schooling happens at the school, as a function...

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Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Michelle and Brickman take over the podcast, discussing “controlled choice” (and declaring their allegiances to either #TeamMike or #TeamChecker), Sen. Lamar Alexander’s school-choice legislation, and teacher-protection laws in California. Amber reads into English-language-arts instruction.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning that Lasts: Unpacking Variation in Teachers’ Effects on Students’ Long-Term Knowledge,” by Benjamin Master, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff, Working Paper 104 (Washington, D.C.: CALDER and AIR, January 2014).

The Smack-Talk Edition

Kathleen and Mike talk Richard Sherman–level smack in this special video edition of the podcast. They tackle Core Knowledge, Rick Hess’s nasty-gram, and Florida’s Common Core two-step. Amber measures teacher-performance trajectories.

Amber's Research Minute

Teacher Performance Trajectories in High and Lower-Poverty Schools,” by Zeyu Xu, Umet Özek, and Michael Hansen, Working Paper 101 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, American Institutes for Research, July 2013).

Does the poverty level of a school impact how much a teacher improves (or not) over time? Analysts at CALDER sought the answer by studying elementary-school math teachers (at the fourth- and fifth-grade levels) in self-contained classrooms in North Carolina and Florida over time (eleven years for North Carolina and eight for Florida). The bottom line: They found no systematic relationship between school-poverty rates and how teachers performed over time as measured by value-added scores. In both high-poverty schools (over 60 percent students receiving a free or reduced-price lunches) and lower-poverty schools (fewer than 60 percent), teacher performance improves fastest during the first five years, then flattens out. (Yes, we’ve heard this before!). Teacher performance growth resumes between years 10 and 15 in North Carolina but remains flat in Florida. Throughout, the analysts found significant differences among teachers in improvement over time. In each of the three career stages examined (novice, early, and mid-career), the fastest-improving teachers gain the equivalent of more than half a year of performance growth annually than the slowest improving teachers. But again, these differences are not correlated in any systematic way with the poverty status of the school—which means that working in a high-poverty school does not necessarily impact the growth rates of teachers.  

SOURCE: Zeyu Xu, Umet Özek, and Michael Hansen, “Teacher Performance Trajectories in High and Lower-Poverty Schools,” Working Paper 101 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, American Institutes for Research, July 2013)....

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American Girls, the Common Core, and everything in between

Mike and American Girl Michelle tackle accountability in private-school-choice programs, whether people are more likely to favor reform once they know how mediocre their schools are, and how applying “disparate impact theory” to the enforcement of school-discipline rules will lead to nothing but trouble. Amber incentivizes us to learn more about teacher-transfer incentives.

Amber's Research Minute

Transfer Incentives for High-Performing Teachers: Final Results from a Multisite Randomized Experiment by Steven Glazerman, et al., (Washington, D.C.: Mathematica Policy Research and Institute of Education Sciences, November 2013).

The results are in from the Talent Transfer Initiative, a high-profile intervention that started in 2009. This randomized-experiment study, conducted by Mathematica, tracks the impact of moving effective teachers to disadvantaged elementary and middle schools. The intervention was implemented in ten school districts in seven states. A $20,000 bonus was paid to each participating teacher over a two-year period, in which they were expected to remain in their designated low-performing schools. Districts were able to fill 88 percent of the targeted vacancies with high performers, but they had to approach over 1,500 of them to get the eighty-one they needed—meaning just 5 percent were willing to make the switch. Analysts found that the transfers had a positive impact on math and reading test scores in the targeted elementary classrooms, up to a quarter of a standard deviation, which equates in this study to moving up each student by 4 to 10 percentile points relative to all students in their states. Yet impacts varied across districts, and there were none at the middle school level. The incentive also had a positive impact on teacher retention rates during the two-year payout period, but after that, the treatment teachers were no more or less likely to leave their schools than their peers. Still, this study indicates that effective teachers can indeed be effective in other settings. In other words, talent is transferable.

SOURCE: Steven Glazerman, et al., Transfer Incentives for High-Performing Teachers: Final Results from a Multisite Randomized Experiment (Washington, D.C.: Mathematica...

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Earlier this week, AFT president Randi Weingarten came out against the use of value-added measures in teacher evaluations, citing recent VAM shortcomings in D.C. and Pittsburgh and launching the catchy slogan, “VAM is a sham.” VAM certainly is not perfect. But as Dara Zeehandelaar reminds us in this week’s Education Gadfly Show, teachers decades ago were concerned about being capriciously fired by principals who didn’t like them, which in turn led to the movement for a more structured and quantifiable teacher-evaluation system. Does Randi want to go back to favoritism? Or simply no accountability at all?

In a fascinating exposé of the Common Core opposition movement, Politico’s Stephanie Simon describes how a sophisticated group of strategists took a grassroots campaign, mainly populated by “a handful of angry moms,” and is milking it for political gain. With everyone’s questionable motivations out in the open, Gadfly would like to see the debate return to whether the standards are right for kids.

In a speech at the Brookings Institution, Eric Cantor named school choice as the best hope for the poor to escape cyclical poverty. He took special aim at New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, for planning a moratorium on charter school co-locations in the Big Apple, arguing that this could “devastate the growth of education opportunity in such a competitive real estate market.” Cantor went on to chastise President Obama for (again) refusing to fund the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a successful initiative that...

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The Arctic Vortex edition

Invigorated by the weather, Mike and Dara give cold shoulders to anti-Common Core strategists, California’s constitution, and Randi Weingarten’s “VAM sham.” Amber gets gifted.

Amber's Research Minute

Who Rises to the Top? Early Indicators,” by Harrison J. Kell, David Lubinski, and Camilla P. Benbow, Psychological Science 24 (2013), 2013: 648–59.

The appointment of former educator and experienced administrator Carmen Fariña as the new chancellor of New York City’s one-million-student public school system has been met with cautious optimism from several fronts, spanning from those who hope she will soften de Blasio’s stance against charter schools to those who hope the opposite. Gadfly, however, is deeply concerned about her recent comments—specifically, her contention that facts are learned “maybe to take tests, but we learn thinking to get on in life. As anyone who understands the past thirty years of cognitive science knows, that’s as false a dichotomy as they come. Gaining knowledge and learning to think critically, rather than being mutually exclusive, are in fact dependent upon one another. Gotham’s students need more knowledge, not less.

Call it a Christmas present to value-added haters: Over the holiday season, news broke that an error in the District of Columbia’s Mathematica-designed value-added model—specifically, the calculation of teachers’ “individual value-added” score, which constitutes 35 percent of teachers’ score under the city’s IMPACT evaluation system—led to mistaken job evaluations for forty-four teachers, one of whom lost their his or her job as a result. In a statement issued just before the winter break, district official Jason Kamras announced that the twenty-two teachers who should have received higher IMPACT scores will “receive all benefits (such as bonuses) that go with the scores,” while the twenty-two who...

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Amber loses her marbles

In the first podcast of the year, Mike and Brickman discuss NCLB’s goal of universal proficiency, an error in D.C.’s IMPACT evaluation scores, and the correct pronunciation of Fariña. Amber is no good with marbles—but great at educating us about student mobility.

Amber's Research Minute

Reducing School Mobility: A Randomized Trial of a Relationship-Building Intervention,” by Jeremy E. Fiel, Anna R. Haskins and Ruth N. López Turley, American Educational Research Journal 50 (2013): 1188–1218.

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