Teachers

If a Supreme Court case yields an outcome that virtually every observer predicted, it’s tempting to dismiss the underlying legal issues as predetermined. But what if the result also confounds the expectations of those same prognosticators from just six weeks prior? Something extraordinary must have taken place, right?

That’s exactly what happened in the closely watched case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which concluded in a 4-4 split on Tuesday after initially dangling over public sector organizers like the sword of Damocles. When oral arguments were heard in January, the battle lines were familiar: four liberal justices clearly in sympathy with public employee unions, five conservatives set to rule against them. Archconservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who had previously been mentioned as a possible swing vote, gave every impression of siding with his ideological confreres. Headlines from that period were getting a lot of mileage out of words like “bleak” and “brutalized.” And “doomsday.”

And then…well, I guess you know what happened then.

It’s difficult to overstate the effect of Scalia’s death on the court’s deadlock—and, indeed, on the future of organized labor in America. A broad ruling on philosophical lines may have functionally transformed...

We are all familiar with the "hero teacher" narrative from books and movies: A plucky young (inevitably white) teacher ends up in a tough inner-city classroom filled with "those kids"—the ones that school and society have written off as unteachable—and succeeds against all odds, through grit and compassion, embarrassing in the process those who run "the system." Ed Boland's The Battle for Room 314 is the dark opposite. It's a clear-eyed chronicle of first-year teaching failure at a difficult New York City high school, vividly written and wincingly frank.

Reading the book brought back a flood of memories of my own struggles as a new teacher at a low-performing public school in the South Bronx. Like Boland, I had my share of defiant and difficult students. If I'd been teaching high school, not elementary school, I likely would have made the same decision he did: to abandon ship and return to my previous career after one year, shell-shocked and defeated.

Two things saved me. First, midway through my first year, another fifth-grade teacher was called up from the army reserve to active duty. I asked my principal to reassign me from my two-teacher "inclusion" classroom to take over her class....

Back in 2008, the Ohio General Assembly mandated the creation of a “clearinghouse of interactive and other distance learning courses delivered by a computer-based method.” In 2013, the Ohio Department of Higher Education (then known as the Ohio Board of Regents) announced a “new online distance-learning web portal” that aimed to provide a “wealth of digital education tools, standards-based resources, curricula, texts, and Web-based courses.” Known as ilearnOhio, the clearinghouse offers standards-aligned, peer-reviewed digital media from multiple content providers, instructional support materials, assessment items, and professional development resources. Teachers can search for lessons and materials based on grade level, discipline, resource type, or Common Core standard. A recent piece in the Columbus Dispatch states that since July 1, more than 475,000 users have visited the site. The Dispatch also reports that Ohio State University—which operates the clearinghouse—estimated in a report last fall that approximately 82 percent of Ohio’s schools and districts have used the clearinghouse in some way, making it a “valuable component of the state’s educational infrastructure.”

So if the clearinghouse is a valuable tool for Ohio educators, why will it cease to exist this summer? The answer is a bit complicated. For...

A new study by Brian Jacob and colleagues examines the relationship between teacher hiring data and subsequent teacher performance in D.C. Public Schools (DCPS).

Analysts focused on information gathered between 2011 and 2013 through TeachDC, the district’s centralized application process that collects data on applicants’ education history, employment experience, and eligibility for tenure (the study includes over seven thousand applicants). TeachDC winnows down applicants based on their performance on subject-specific assessments, interviews, and teaching auditions. Those who pass all three stages are put in the recommended pool to be seen by principals (though new hires can also be hired outside the pool). Data also included IMPACT, D.C.’s teacher evaluation system, for all district teachers between 2011–12 and 2013–14.

There are four key findings. First, applicants with no prior teaching experience are less likely to be hired by DCPS schools than those with prior experience. Second, teachers with better academic credentials (e.g., ACT or SAT scores) appear to be no more or less likely to be hired. Third, for those who are hired, achievement measures (undergraduate GPA, SAT and ACT scores, and college selectivity) and some screening measures (such as applicants’ performance on mock teaching lessons) mostly did not predict hiring...

Can classroom observations be used as the sole measure for identifying effective teachers? In a new study, Rachel Garrett (AIR) and former Fordham Emerging Education Policy Scholar Matthew P. Steinberg (University of Pennsylvania) attempt to answer this question by investigating the relationship between observation scores and student achievement.

They rely on the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study to extract data from a sample of 1,559 teachers of grades 4–8, who were randomly assigned to students in six major school districts. The sample was separated according to content area to determine teacher effectiveness in math and reading, with both sub-samples exhibiting similar student, teacher, and classroom characteristics. Analysts compared student performance (measured by test scores on state-mandated exams during the 2009–2010 and 2010–2011 school years), to teacher observation scores based on the Framework for Teaching (FFT) instrument, a widely used observation protocol. They measured both the expected and observed effects of teacher performance on student achievement. 

If students were randomly assigned to teachers in both content areas, the researchers calculated, the expected growth of a student taught by a “proficient” teacher should be between 1.2 and 1.5 months of extra learning in math per year compared to a “basic” educator....

A new working paper by researchers Matthew Kraft and Allison Gilmour examines teacher evaluations reform by revisiting The Widget Effect. The widely read TNTP report found that less than 1 percent of teachers in most districts were rated as unsatisfactory—even though 81 percent of principals could identify an ineffective teacher in their school.

Kraft and colleagues looked at the distribution of teacher effectiveness in nineteen states, including fourteen Race To The Top winners. They also conducted a case study in a large urban district in the northeast that adopted new evaluations in 2012–13. The experiment included surveys of evaluators who are responsible for evaluating teachers and interviews of principals. Among the nineteen states, the analysts found that the median percentage of teachers rated below proficient was 2.7 percent. Yet the percentages rated below proficient varied across states, as do those rated above proficient.

They found a wide variation among states from Hawaii (where fewer than 1 percent of teachers were judged below proficient) to New Mexico (where 26 percent of teachers were considered not up to par). Meanwhile, Georgia rated 3 percent of teachers as above proficient, compared to 73 percent in Tennessee. Massachusetts, our highest-performing state, placed 8 percent...

Recently, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) released a list of recommendations for states and local education agencies to use as a guide for designing and reforming teacher support and evaluation systems. The recently passed ESSA removes the federal waiver requirement for teacher evaluations, but most states have remained committed. And CCSSO’s guiding principles offer a solid foundation on which state and local authorities can refine their evaluation structures and teacher support systems to ensure a “productive balance” between support and accountability.

CCSSO worked alongside teachers, principals, state chiefs, expert researchers, and partner organizations to develop three key principles. The first highlights the importance of integrating teacher support and evaluation into more comprehensive efforts to develop teaching practice and improve student learning. This includes regularly communicating the purpose of evaluation and support systems; building systems that are based on clearly articulated standards for effective practice; connecting evaluation and support to talent management and using results to inform decisions related to career advancement, leadership opportunities, and tenure; aligning teacher support and evaluation to student standards, curricula, and assessment; and clarifying the roles and responsibilities of states, districts, and schools. States play the largest role in making the system work because,...

In a previous post, I outlined the current landscape of teacher policy in Ohio and pointed out some areas in need of significant reform. The largest problem—and perhaps the most intractable—is teacher preparation. Despite consensus on the need for reform, some solid ideas, and an abundance of opportunities over the last few decades, schools of education have changed very little. Ohio is no exception, and many of the Buckeye State’s teacher preparation programs are in need of an overhaul. Here are a few recommendations for how policy makers and preparation programs in Ohio can start making progress in the impervious-to-change area of teacher training.

Rethink ways of holding teacher preparation programs accountable 

Uncle Ben may not have been thinking of education when he said, “With great power comes great responsibility,” but the shoe certainly fits. Teachers have an enormous impact on their students, and it makes sense that taxpayers, parents, and policy makers would want to ensure that the programs entrusted with training those teachers are accountable for their performance. Ohio leaders recognize this and have already taken some tentative steps toward judging teacher preparation programs on the performance of their graduates. Unfortunately,...

America’s schools are staffed disproportionally by white (and mostly female) teachers. Increasing attention has been paid to the underrepresentation of teachers of color in American classrooms, with research examining its impact on expectations for students, referral rates for gifted programs, and even student achievement. This paper by American University’s Stephen Holt and Seth Gershenson adds valuable evidence to the discussion by measuring the impact of “student-teacher demographic mismatch”—being taught by a teacher of a different race—on student absences and suspensions.

The study uses student-level longitudinal data for over one million North Carolina students from kindergarten through fifth grade between the years 2006 and 2010. The researchers simultaneously controlled for student characteristics (e.g., gender, prior achievement) and classroom variables (e.g., teacher’s experience, class size, enrollment, etc.), noting that certain types of regression analysis are “very likely biased by unobserved factors that jointly determine assignment to an other-race teacher.” For example, parental motivation probably influences both student attendance and classroom assignments. The researchers conducted a variety of statistical sorting tests and concluded that there was no evidence of sorting on the variables they could observe, and likely none occurring on unobservable dimensions either. All of which is to say that students’...

Peter Sipe

One of my favorite pieces of writing is four sentences long. It’s the statement General Dwight Eisenhower drafted in the event D-Day ended in defeat:

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

This noble declaration came to mind as I studied for the exams to become an elementary teacher in Massachusetts. I wondered how I should explain if I did not pass. And I still do, because I won’t learn until March 18.

You may be wondering how delusional one must be to compare failing a test to failing to liberate Western Europe. I think what you’re really asking, though, is an estimation question, and the answer would be best expressed using scientific notation. Hitting the books has hugely improved my math skills, you see.

Having been credentialed as an elementary teacher already—years ago, in a neighboring state I will identify only...

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