Last week, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute was lucky to co-host "Re-Imagining Teaching: Five Structures to Transform the Profession" with the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). There was a great conversation (both in house and on Twitter), with one key takeaway standing apart from the others: The education-policy world needs to listen more to teachers.

NNSTOY executive director Katherine Basset and Fordham executive vice president Michael Petrilli kicked off the event:

The panel then turned to an extraordinary panel of teachers—all of whom are themselves in “hybrid roles,” mixing teaching and policy.

We certainly didn't forget Common Core:


As part of the AEI Teacher Quality 2.0 series, the authors of this paper take on the delicate issue of school-staffing design. In the first two pages, they rip apart arguments others have spent years carefully constructing: Teacher pay may be too low, but, they counter, across-the-board raises are impossibly expensive for even profligate spenders ($16 billion per year, or roughly the entire Title I budget for just a $5,000 per teacher raise, according to their calculations). Professional development is also important, but won’t do much good when teachers have so little adult interaction and feedback. And of course we want able, motivated individuals to enter the profession, but they leave quickly when they find no pathway to advance professionally as they could and would in other lines of work. So what’s the alternative? The authors offer up several staffing models that have in common a reduction in the number of teachers—who, in today’s standard model, are chiefly responsible for two-dozen or so students at a time. Since the 1970s, they remind us, the number of staff in our schools has increased by 84 percent, while the number of students has only increased at least a tenth of that rate. Instead, the paper calls for giving top teachers more students or oversight over multiple classrooms, allowing those in the primary grades to specialize by subject, employ blended learning, or even teach remotely. Touchstone Charter Schools in New Jersey, for example, created a teacher career ladder by allowing “master teachers”...


Staffing Design: The Missing Key to Teacher Quality 2.0, and the exemplar programs its authors highlight are worth a look. As part of the AEI Teacher Quality 2.0 series, authors Bryan Hassel, Emily Ayscue Hassel, and Sharon Kebschull Barrett examine many of the HR policies offered by both the status-quo and reform camps and find both lacking. Each side makes important points, argue the authors, but their oft-proposed solutions aren’t going to make much of a dent if we maintain our current education-delivery model.

In the first two pages, the authors rip apart arguments others have spent years carefully constructing: Teacher pay may be too low but, they counter, across-the-board raises are impossibly expensive for even profligate spenders ($3.2 billion per year for just a $1,000 per teacher raise according to their calculations). Professional development is important, but won’t do much good when teachers have so little adult interaction and feedback. Of course we want able, motivated individuals to enter the profession, but they leave quickly when they find no ability to advance professionally as they could and would in other lines of work.

Reformers understandably yearn to replace ineffective teachers with instructional superstars, but “if the nation succeeded in attracting 50,000 more new teachers each year who ended up as effective as today’s top 25 percent; tripled the dismissal rate of ineffective teachers; and doubled the retention rate of excellent teachers, even after five years, the number of classrooms with excellent teachers in charge would rise from 25 percent to just...

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Dear Deborah,

I’m glad you brought up the topic of democracy. In future posts, I plan to...

Thanks to the tireless work of school-choice advocates and wise policymakers, millions of U.S....

Does school accountability boost students’ long-term prospects? That’s the question this new...

We all know the story: the team that's always way back in the standings employs a...

A Crash Course in Teacher Pensions

Dara Zeehandelaar, author of The Big Squeeze: Retirement Costs and School District Budgets, explains teachers pensions and the difference between defined benefits and defined contribution plans that states offer teachers.

High school sports and other misadventures

In this week’s podcast, Dara and Brickman tackle Amanda Ripley’s condemnation of the athlete-centric culture in America’s high schools. They also take on GOP governors’ wobbliness on Common Core and the morally bankrupt Philadelphia teacher union. Amber holds us all accountable.

Amber's Research Minute

School Accountability, Postsecondary Attainment and Earnings,” by David J. Deming, Sarah Cohodes, Jennifer Jennings, and Christopher Jencks, NBER Working Paper No. 19444 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, September 2013)

Politics aside, the fate of the Common Core begins and ends with implementation. Particularly during this initial transition, it is critical that educators have sufficient support and guidance to successfully teach these standards. Unfortunately, much existing information focuses on content rather than instructional strategy, leaving educators baffled as to how to navigate the shift to Common Core in their own classrooms. Enter the Achievement Network (ANet), a nonprofit serving low-income schools. (Check out Education Next for great background.) Released as part of a collection of Common Core resources published by the Aspen Institute, this paper was informed by substantial on-the-ground work with 460 partner schools in seven states and the District of Columbia. It’s structured around three rubrics: one for “Leader Actions,” one for “Teacher Actions,” and one for “School Structures.” Each is designed to help on-the-ground educators diagnose their school’s current practices and details how to shift from basic to innovative practices in key areas. The report includes specific strategies ranging from how leaders can help teachers understand and plan from the new standards to how to improve teachers’ analysis and use of student data. For example, school leaders are urged to work closely with teachers to set goals based on individual students’ growth potential and to assist them in selecting one or two priority standards and instructional shifts on which to focus. The guide also includes sample questions upon which leaders can frame school-level discussions and provides case studies as examples of how other schools and...


Journalist and author Amanda Ripley has received well-deserved attention for her book The Smartest Kids in the World—but we’re not sold on her case against high school sports, which headlines this month’s Atlantic. Check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show for an informed debate.

On Monday, Florida governor Rick Scott issued an executive order withdrawing the Sunshine State from PARCC. Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker—governors of Louisiana and Wisconsin, respectively—have also expressed “reservations” about the Common Core of late. As Margaret Thatcher would say, “This is no time to go wobbly!” On the brighter side, earlier today, the Michigan House of Representatives voted 85–21 to adopt a resolution authorizing funding for Common Core implementation.

A Wall Street Journal editorial blasted Philadelphia’s teacher union for dragging its feet on Governor Corbett’s proposal to bail out the failing district, which—if accepted—would be conditional on the elimination of teacher seniority rights and basing future pay increases on achievement-based teacher evaluations. (For more on the roots of Philadelphia schools’ sticky financial situation, see Paying the Pension Price in Philadelphia.) In this week’s podcast, Dara urges Philly’s teacher union, and unions everywhere, to take a more active role in pushing teacher quality....


Crayons versus Tablets?

In this week’s podcast, Michelle defends Toni Morrison, Mike laughs social-emotional learning out of the room, and both consider the possibilities of the “tablet revolution.” Dara takes us all on a field trip.

Amber's Research Minute

The Educational Value of Field Trips,” by Jay P. Greene, Brian Kisida, and Daniel H. Bowen, Education Next 14 (1).

A study out of Britain’s Institute of Education (IOE) has found that children who read for pleasure made more progress in mathematics, vocabulary, and spelling between the ages of ten and sixteen than their peers who rarely read. In fact, the study found that whether or not a child likes to read is a greater predictor of classroom success than parents’ educational levels.

A Chicago Tribune article follows Jailyn Baker, a teenager in Chicago, on her seven-leg, hour-and-a-half-long commute to the Josephinium Academy, her school of choice and one of the few private schools in the city that her family can afford. Her story illustrates not only the lengths to which folks will go to exercise school choice but also a great irony: Jailyn lives closer to Indiana, a state that has one of the “most liberating” school-voucher programs in the land, than she does to Josephinium; were she living in Indiana, she would be eligible for a voucher worth nearly $6,000, which could allow her to attend a private school that she didn’t have to torture herself to get to.

Kudos of the week go to Jeb Bush, who—in what seemed like a moment of frustration—struck back at Common Core critics: “If you’re comfortable with mediocrity, fine.” He followed his comments, made at an appearance in Washington in support of Louisiana’s school-voucher program, by calling opposition “purely political.” Read more here.

A month after publishing two pieces blasting the National Council on...

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Don’t call me and my friends Chicken Littles or “boys (and girls) who cried wolf.” The sky was...

For the past year, much of the ed-reform world has been concerned about the (seemingly) growing...

This valuable paper from the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings sounds an important...

Among the provisions of Indiana’s so-called Common Core “pause” legislation was a requirement...

Sue, baby, sue!

Mike tries to goad an unflappable Michael Brickman into a fight on New York’s mayoral election, whether school choice is the only path to reform, and whether Arne Duncan is bullying California. Dara does the math on math teachers from TFA and Teaching Fellows.

Amber's Research Minute

The Effectiveness of Secondary Math Teachers from Teach for America and the Teaching Fellows Programs by Melissa A. Clark, et al., (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Education Sciences, September 2013).

This study of Teach For America (TFA) and Teaching Fellows secondary math teachers explores how their students compare to peers taking the same course, in the same school, from teachers who entered the profession through traditional certification programs (or other programs not as rigorous as TFA or Teaching Fellows). Conducted by Mathematica and the federal Institute of Education Sciences, the report is the first look at this question using random assignment, the gold standard for empirical research: Students in each participating school, 9,000 overall taught by 300 secondary math teachers, were randomly assigned to their instructors. The upshot? First, students who had TFA teachers performed better on end-of-year assessments than students in the comparison classrooms, scoring an average of 0.07 standard deviations higher, which is equivalent to 2.6 additional months of school or moving from the 27th to 36th percentile. Second, students who had Teaching Fellows teachers did not do any better or worse than students in comparison classrooms. However, students of novice Teaching Fellows did better than those instructed by novice comparison teachers. To be sure, these findings are not necessarily reflective of the programs alone. They also reflect differences in the people who choose to enter them. Finally, a bit on the characteristics of these teachers: Both TFA and Teaching Fellows have less experience than their peers, are less likely to be minorities, more likely to have graduated from more selective colleges, less likely to be math majors but more likely to score higher on tests of math...