Teachers

Any teacher worth his salt can recognize that there are differences among students that must be taken into account in the classroom. Why, then, can’t we acknowledge that the same is true for teachers?

Every time I’ve taken part in a teacher’s professional development activity, I’ve asked myself this same question. Too often, they are deathly boring, tedious examples of how not to engage in the learning process. Such efforts are rarely built on the strengths and weaknesses of individual teachers, and they fail to make the most out of new developments in technology.

So here are five ways to prioritize real professional development (PD) as an important issue and stop wasting everybody’s time.

1. Admit we’ve got it wrong

Two recent reports demonstrate that the United States is underperforming internationally in its commitment to teacher PD. They show how more successful countries tend to promote a robust system of collaborative professional learning that is built into the daily lives of teachers and school leaders.

This is no small thing: More than two decades of research findings show that the teacher quality is the most significant contributing factor to student success. State-funded PD systems in America are falling drastically behind in this...

If you take an interest in the intersection of American education and law, the news this month has clearly been dominated by one story: The death of Antonin Scalia has transformed the ideological complexion of the Supreme Court during one of the most consequential terms of recent years. That means reformers can probably expect a tie vote in the matter of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which threatens to drastically weaken public employee unions by outlawing the fees that help fund their organizing activities. Scalia’s remarks during oral arguments gave the impression that he’d join a 5-4 majority against the unions, but his death virtually assures that the case will now be determined by a lower court ruling. No historic decision, no generational shift in the status quo. Nothing to see, basically.

But that doesn’t mean that we’ve dispensed with the question of labor by any stretch. Friedrichs isn’t the only potentially earth-shaking case concerning teachers’ unions; in fact, it isn’t even the only one originating in the Golden State. The other, of course, is Vergara v. California, which was heard in a state appeals court Thursday.

A brief explainer for those of you who have been vacationing in some happy place far away from the...

A recent study from the National Center on Education and the Economy examines teacher professional learning in four systems: British Columbia, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Singapore. These places have two key similarities: They are considered high-performers as measured by student achievement on international comparison tests, and they view teacher professional learning as central to the job of educating students.

In particular, each system is built around what’s called an “improvement cycle,” which directly ties to student learning. The cycle follows three steps: First, assessing students’ current learning levels; second, developing teaching practices that help students get to the next stage of learning; and third, evaluating the impact of the new practices on student learning and refining them.

The authors of the report are careful to note that the improvement cycle doesn’t work in isolation—it requires strong links between leadership roles, resource allocation, and the focus of evaluation and accountability measures. To make the cycle work and to create a culture of continuous and meaningful growth, schools must organize improvement around effective professional learning, create distinct roles for the people who lead professional development, advance teacher expertise, share responsibility between teachers and administrators for professional growth, and build collaborative learning...

Last year, we at Fordham wrote quite a bit about teacher policy. We talked about changes needed in teacher preparation, teacher licensure, and teacher evaluation. We also spilled some ink on innovations in teacher credentialing, teacher roles, teacher professional development, and other potential changes to teacher evaluations. By the early days of 2016, we realized that a year had passed, and—despite some debate—nothing had actually changed. Teacher policy in Ohio was pretty much ignored. The advent of a new federal education law promises to shake things up, and it could be the jolt of energy that Ohio teacher policy needs. But what should legislators and administrators know about teacher policy before they start crafting programs and reforms in the wake of ESSA? Let’s take a look.   

Teacher licensure

When lawmakers in Ohio discussed tackling deregulation last year, one of the policies they proposed was to deregulate state mandates regarding teacher licensure for eligible high-performing districts. The move generated some controversy, which is unsurprising, considering that licensure is an area of teacher policy that’s rife with conflicting research. However, that hasn’t stopped Ohio from getting ...

Over the years, students have resorted to all kinds of chicanery as a means of concealing bad grades from their parents. Intercepting report cards in the mail has long been a reliable standby, along with the artful application of X-Acto knives, whiteout, and copy machines. But major publishers are soon going to have to unearth some new methods to screen their own poor performance from concerned eyes: EdReports, which tests the putative alignment of instructional materials to the Common Core standards, released a new round of textbook assessments last week, and the results are too putrid to hide. The organization found that four textbook series released by McGraw-Hill, the Center for Mathematics and Teaching, and the College Board only intermittently met its expectations for alignment with the standards. It’s hardly a surprising revelation, given the abysmal record of industry leaders when it comes to producing materials of rigor and coherence. The only question now is how soon presidential candidates will start blaming Common Core itself for the mess.

As the Republican field has narrowed, we bade a fond “Don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya” to former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal....

New York State education officials raised a ruckus two weeks ago when they announced that annual statewide reading and math tests, administered in grades 3–8, would no longer be timed. The New York Post quickly blasted the move as “lunacy” in an editorial. “Nowhere in the world do standardized exams come without time limits,” the paper thundered. “Without time limits, they’re a far less accurate measure.” Eva S. Moskowitz, founder of the Success Academy charter schools had a similar reaction. “I don’t even know how you administer a test like that,” she told the New York Times

I’ll confess that my initial reaction was not very different. Intuitively, testing conditions would seem to have a direct impact on validity. If you test Usain Bolt and me on our ability to run one hundred meters, I might finish faster if I’m on flat ground and the world record holder is forced to run up a very steep incline. But that doesn’t make me Usain Bolt’s equal. By abolishing time limits, it seemed New York was seeking to game the results, giving every student a “special education accommodation” with extended time for testing. 

But after reading the research and talking to leading psychometricians, I’ve concluded that both...

  • The best coaches are, at heart, excellent teachers. They have to impart tactics and skills to their players, along with universal values like teamwork, leadership, and effort. The U.S. Soccer Federation acknowledged the necessity of sound teaching when it contacted superstar educator Doug Lemov to help train its youth league coaches. The former teacher and administrator (and college soccer walk-on) gained fame for his meticulous research into the methods of successful instructors, which he has explored in a series of bestselling manuals. Now he’s helping professionals construct drills and improve communication with their young charges. Lemov has written about his fascination with the game before (check out his notes on a practice conducted by European juggernaut Bayern Munich), and we can only hope that his contributions help lift young American athletes higher. Because seriously, there’s something humiliating about losing to Belgium—whether on test scores or the beautiful game.
  • Even if they’re stupefied by the content, history teachers probably long for the inarguable authority of mathematical theories and proofs. With a few exceptions, math and science teachers seldom have to bat away charges of imperialism or cultural misrepresentation. In California, where educators are mulling a newly issued framework for
  • ...

A new study out by Tom Dee and his colleagues follows on the heels of a prior evaluation of District of Columbia Public Schools' (DCPS) IMPACT teacher evaluation system, which found largely positive outcomes for the system. This time around, they examined the effects of teacher turnover on student achievement. The new focus is presumably prompted by IMPACT, a multifaceted evaluation system that measures student growth, classroom practice (via observations), and teacher professionalism. Teachers receive scores that range from “ineffective” to “highly effective”; the former are “separated” from the district, while the latter are eligible for one-time bonuses of up to $25,000 and a permanent increase in base pay of up to $27,000 per year.

This evaluation, using data from 2009–10 to 2012–13, covers 103 schools between grades four and eight. It examines achievement at the school level, and then the grade level, for particular years. Analysts examine whether teacher effectiveness and achievement are higher or lower as a result of teachers exiting and entering the system.

The evaluation is a well-designed, quasi-experimental study, so it’s not causal in nature. But like any good analysts, the authors subject their data to a number of checks for “robustness” to rule out...

Full disclosure: I worked briefly (and happily) for Ed Boland, the author of The Battle for Room 314, after leaving my South Bronx classroom. He is a longtime senior executive with Prep for Prep, a heralded nonprofit that seeks out talented students of color in New York City’s public school system, grooms them for placement in elite private schools, and shepherds them into the best colleges in the nation. It’s the closest thing in education to finding a life-changing golden ticket in a Wonka bar.

Beset by a “nagging feeling that the program, as worthy as it was, just wasn’t reaching enough kids or the ones who needed the most help,” Boland starts to wonder if he’d missed his true calling. Raised in a Catholic family of teachers and do-gooders, he sets his mind (and resets his household budget) on becoming a New York City public school teacher. First he works nights and weekends to get his teaching degree. Then he quits his job hobnobbing with the city’s elite and trades his “comfy bourgeois life,” for a job teaching ninth-grade history at “Union Street School.”

To say it didn’t go well would be an understatement. Chantay climbs on her desk and...

A new CALDER study examines whether student-teaching experience affects both later teaching effectiveness and the likelihood of leaving the profession.

Dan Goldhaber and colleagues analyzed data from six university-based teacher education programs in Washington State that, together, graduate roughly one-third of the state’s teachers. They assembled an impressive data set that included information on teacher candidates’ cooperating or supervising teachers and where their internships or student-teaching occurred; administrative data on race, gender, experience, educational background, and teaching endorsements; and data on the schools in which they were trained and the schools in which they were hired. The sample included individuals who had completed their student-teaching between 1998 and 2010, comprising approximately 8,300 trainees.

Note that (as Goldhaber et al. repeatedly stress) these are descriptive findings, not causal ones, because the analytic models can’t account for the non-random sorting of teachers to schools and teaching positions.

There are three key findings: First, teachers who student-taught in schools with low levels of teacher turnover are less likely to leave teaching.

Second, teachers appear to be more effective when the student demographics at their schools reflect those of the schools in which they student-taught. For example, students in high-poverty schools are predicted to...

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