Do disadvantaged kids have equal access to great teaching? No. Given this, can a district policy that induces great teachers to transfer into distressed schools improve achievement? Yes. These are the findings of two new reports from Mathematica, released last week.

The first research study, “Access to Effective Teaching for Disadvantaged Students,” examined fourth through eighth grade test scores over three year spans across twenty-nine large school districts. Generally, the researchers found that low-income students experienced less effective teaching than their higher-income peers. The main culprit: the unequal distribution of effective teachers across school buildings within a district. In contrast, the analysts detected more equal access to effective teaching within a school building. Hence, there is little evidence to suggest that school-level principals systemically assign the least effective teachers to the most disadvantaged students.

The companion study, “Transfer Incentives for High-Performing Teachers,” examined whether inducing great educators, via monetary incentive, to teach in disadvantaged schools can lift achievement. To obtain evidence, the researchers created an experiment—the Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI)—which they conducted in ten school districts across seven states. The study first identified the districts’ highest-performing teachers (top 20 percent in value-added) who were not in schools with low-achieving and disadvantaged students. Then, these teachers were offered a $10,000 per-year bonus for two years to transfer into a distressed school within their district. The study found that the transfer incentive had a positive, significant impact on elementary students’ math and reading test scores. The estimated impact moved the typical pupil...


This fascinating new study published by NBER examines whether early-retirement incentives impact student achievement. Researchers analyzed an early-retirement policy in Illinois that allowed teachers to retire early in 1992–93 and 1993–94. It was nicknamed 5+5, meaning that teachers who were at least fifty years old could purchase an extra five years of age and experience to be counted as creditable service toward their retirement benefit, so long as they retired immediately. Over the policy’s two-year life span, a full 10 percent of Illinois’s teachers—the bulk of whom were experienced—took advantage of this offer, leaving the profession. Analysts studied the test scores of the students of roughly 55,000 third-, sixth-, and eighth-grade teachers, ultimately finding that the incentive led to increased student achievement in most cases. (Why this occurred is beyond the scope of this study. It is conceivable that the lowest-quality and/or most burned-out teachers are most apt to take advantage of an incentive like this.) They also found evidence suggesting larger positive effects in disadvantaged schools. Then the analysts turned to cost. Summed across the approximately 8,000 teachers who participated in the program, the incentive resulted in total savings to Illinois districts of $550.5 million (because it’s cheaper to replace veteran teachers with rookies). However, the teachers who retired early receive pension benefits for more years than if they had retired normally. And in Illinois, it is the state, rather than the districts, that must make up the increased costs to the pension system, which totaled roughly $643 million....


The follicly defeated edition

Mike and Brickman celebrate the miraculous survival of skydivers whose plane crashed in midair—but they were never in any danger, since the hot air emanating from Bill de Blasio’s campaign would have saved them anyway. Safely on the ground, they discuss the future of the Common Core in Florida and Mike’s anti-poverty strategy, while Amber considers the merits of bribing teachers to retire early.

Amber's Research Minute

Early Retirement Incentives and Student Achievement,” by Maria D. Fitzpatrick and Michael F. Lovenheim, NBER Working Paper No. 19281 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, August 2013).

The “fifty-state review” of educational policies has proliferated into a literary genre of its own. Extant are fifty-state reviews of academic standards, charter school laws, a whole plethora of ed-reform policies, teacher-union strength, and even bullying laws. Add to this growing body of literature the National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) recent fifty-state review of teacher evaluation policies. For NCTQ analysts, it’s not merely the teacher-evaluation tool per se that is important—it is also about how schools use evaluations in staffing decisions. The following are the three key takeaways from this study: First, teacher-evaluation policies have moved speedily—propelled, in part, by federal policy—through state legislatures. For example, in 2009 just fifteen of the fifty-one states (including D.C.) mandated that teacher evaluations be based on objective measures of student achievement. Now, forty-one states require such measures. Second, the degree to which teacher-evaluation systems are rigid or flexible varies across states. More than half of states (twenty-nine) give local districts considerable latitude in designing and implementing a homegrown evaluation system. The rest of the states take a heavier-handed approach, either mandating a single statewide system for all districts or a statewide system where districts can seek an “opt-out” waiver from the state if they implement a comparable evaluation system. Third, among the states with a teacher-evaluation policy based on achievement measures, state policies vary widely in how evaluations are linked to staffing decisions. Just six states tie evaluations to teacher salaries, while twenty-three states tie unsatisfactory evaluations...


Two months into the school year, teacher help is still wanted in Cleveland. According to a Cleveland Plain Dealer report, Cleveland Metropolitan School District is still attempting to fill eighty-four teacher vacancies, mainly in the areas of special education; English-language learning (ELL); and high school math, science, and English.

What a pity.

Eric Gordon, the district’s superintendent, told the newspaper that late retirements, a new teacher-hiring process, and enrollment uncertainty have all led to the staffing shortfall. There is no doubt that he’s right. But it also comes as no surprise that vacancies in these content areas are going unfilled, for it’s a well-known fact that schools face systemic shortfalls in qualified applicants for special education, math, and science. Here’s the evidence:

  • In a 2013 report, the Minnesota Department of Education found that nearly half of its schools (41 percent) said special-education vacancies are “very difficult” to fill. Over one-quarter of schools reported that chemistry and math vacancies (28 and 26 percent, respectively) are “very difficult” to fill. By comparison, only 2 percent of schools said elementary and social-studies teacher vacancies are “very difficult” to fill.
  • A 2008 study from the Wisconsin Department of Education found that there are a whopping sixty-seven applicants for every elementary teacher vacancy and sixty-five applicants for every social-studies vacancy. Meanwhile, there were only fifteen applicants per learning disability and chemistry vacancy and twenty-four applicants per math vacancy.
  • Back home in Ohio, 90 percent of Dayton Public Schools principals told NCTQ
  • ...
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For almost a year now, many states have been engulfed in a raucous debate about the Common Core...

Throughout much of 2013, a colleague and I worked on a project related to America’s highest-...

The results of New York’s hard-fought, revamped, and supposedly tougher teacher-evaluation...

Drawing on classroom visits, teacher training observations, and interviews with multiple...

With Common Core implementation in full swing, states are, for the most part, reaching for the...

Playing telephone in the age of the internet

Are states making progress towards implementing the Common Core ELA standards? Did New York waste its time revamping its teacher-evaluation system? Is Teach For America getting too big for its britches? And what exactly is the anti-blob? Mike and Michelle ponder these questions, while Amber lays out the impact of IMPACT.

Common Core & Curriculum Controversies

Does three times four equal eleven? Will "fuzzy math" leave our students two years behind other countries? Will literature vanish from the English class? Is gifted-and-talented education dying? A barrel of rumors and myths about curriculum has made its way into discussions of the Common Core...

With Common Core implementation in full swing, states are, for the most part, reaching for the same academic achievement goals. Yet according to this new report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), the accountability structures being developed in state and local jurisdictions continue to be disparate in scope and quality. Must this be the case? Policymakers, private funders, charter authorizers, or others might create a national system that “could offer the primary advantage of providing a consistent and comprehensive measure of charter school quality to inform parent choice and authorizer decisions,” argue the authors. Looking for inspiration, the analysts study state and local accountability systems as well as private ones, such as the high school rankings provided by U.S. News and World Report. They found that each used different reporting formats and a variety of means to measure student achievement, growth, college and career readiness, and subgroup performance. Logistics, costs, and our fears of federal intervention in education will likely ensure that a multi-state evaluation system does not move much beyond the kind offered by U.S. News. Nevertheless, the report calls for better data and offers a number of steps that states could take to make their results more comparable, such as including student-growth measures or using simplified reporting formats.

SOURCE: Lyria Boast and Tim Field, Quality School Ratings: Trends in Evaluating School Academic Quality (Washington, D.C.: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, October 2013)....


IMPACT—the District of Columbia’s controversial teacher-evaluation system, ushered in by former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee—offers robust incentives and sanctions for teachers and links them to multiple measures of performance, such as test scores, classroom observations, and collaboration with colleagues. And according to this new study, it is working. Analysts studied teacher-level administrative and demographic data for DCPS’s general-education teachers in grades K–12, and their students, over the first three years of IMPACT (2009–10 through 2011–12), including their scores on IMPACT, which placed them into four categories of effectiveness ranging from highly effective to ineffective. Teachers in the latter category were immediately dismissed, while those in the next lowest category (called minimally effective) were subject to a dismissal threat—meaning they could be fired the following year if their rating did not improve. On the other hand, those who were rated as highly effective were eligible for a one-time bonus of up to $25,000, as well as increases in their base pay if they scored at the highest rating for at least two consecutive years. When comparing these two “threshold” groups, the low-performers (whose ratings placed them near the threshold of a dismissal threat) and the high performers (whose rating placed them near the threshold for the big pay bump), the analysts found that the threat of dismissal increased the voluntary attrition of low-performing teachers by 11 percentage points (or more than 50 percent) and improved the performance of teachers who remained by 0.27 of a standard deviation. They also...


The results of New York’s hard-fought, revamped, and supposedly tougher teacher-evaluation system are in: 91.5 percent of teachers were rated either highly effective or effective, 4.4 percent were rated “developing,” and just 1 percent were rated “ineffective.” This appears to be a continuation of a trend: After a huge push for rigorous teacher evaluations tied to achievement, the results are mostly the same. These outcomes are especially interesting when juxtaposed with those from the recently lauded D.C. IMPACT system [link to SR]. Mike Petrilli, unsurprised, notes that the natural local response to top-down mandates is to resist.

A thoughtful article in National Review Online profiled the battle against “progressive education” over the last half century and, in particular, the contributions of E.D. Hirsch Jr. to the cause. It is a must-read for anyone those who wish to understand more clearly the philosophical underpinnings of the education-reform movement.

New York Times op-ed columnist Bill Keller highlighted the move to reform teacher preparation, noting in particular the calls for greater selectivity in admissions (a key point in Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World), better training in content knowledge (as quoted in the article, researcher William Schmidt reckoned that about 60 percent of America’s future middle school math teachers were being trained at “Botswana-level teacher programs”), and the introduction of “sustained, intense classroom experience” into prep programs.

Seven states—Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Washington—will participate in a...


Playing telephone in the age of the internet

Are states making progress towards implementing the Common Core ELA standards? Did New York waste its time revamping its teacher-evaluation system? Is Teach For America getting too big for its britches? And what exactly is the anti-blob? Mike and Michelle ponder these questions, while Amber lays out the impact of IMPACT.