Teachers

Teachers affect student academic achievement more than any other school-based factor. As a result, states and school districts have experimented with incentive pay programs as a twofold strategy to both attract high-quality teachers and boost student performance. Evidence on the effectiveness of this tactic is mixed, but the policies can differ greatly in structure, and little is known about how the design of incentive plans might impact their effectiveness.

Enter a new National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) study that examines the structure of Houston’s recently implemented incentive pay system, as well as its effect on student achievement.

The researchers analyzed data from grades 3–8 from the Houston Independent School District’s (HISD) merit pay system, ASPIRE (“Accelerating Student Progress, Increasing Results and Expectations”). ASPIRE is designed as a “rank-order tournament,” which rewards top-performing math, reading, language arts, science, and social studies teachers based on their value-added scores (estimates of the effect individual teachers have on student learning over a school year). Under ASPIRE, teachers receive a $3,870 bonus if their students receive value-added scores above the fiftieth percentile; scores above the seventy-fifth percentile result in even larger bumps—up to $7,700 per teacher.

The authors initially hypothesized that teachers who...

Last week, in the wake of President Obama’s pledge to reduce the amount of time students spend taking tests, my colleagues Robert Pondiscio and Michael Petrilli weighed in with dueling stances on the current state of testing and accountability in America’s schools. Both made valid points, but neither got it exactly right, so let me add a few points to the conversation.

Like Robert, I don’t see how we can improve our schools if we don’t know how they’re doing, which means we need the data we get from standardized tests. But I also believe that—because we’re obligated to intervene when kids aren’t getting the education they deserve—some tests must inevitably be “high-stakes.” The only real alternative to this is an unregulated market, which experience suggests is a bad idea.

Must this logic condemn our children to eternal test-preparation purgatory? I hope not, but I confess to some degree of doubt. The challenge is creating an accountability system that doesn't inadvertently encourage gaming or bad teaching. Yet some recent policy shifts seem to have moved us further away from that kind of system.

As Mike noted, the problem of over-testing has been exacerbated in recent years by the...

  • The plight of boys in school, and particularly boys from underprivileged backgrounds, is a story we’ve all gotten used to hearing about. Whether in our home state of Ohio or in international educational utopias like Finland, young men are lagging behind their female classmates in testing performance, high school graduation, college attendance, and a slew of disciplinary issues. The New York Times’s Upshot blog has an article on the academic gender gap that delves into the existing research to reach a distressing conclusion: The cumulative stress of all social hindrances, from domestic violence to parental absence to poverty, impose a greater toll on boys than girls. Although girls in every setting are more likely than boys to be adequately prepared for kindergarten (and less likely to rack up absences once they begin), their comparative edge grows much wider within deprived populations like immigrant and low-income families. With forces like this arrayed against them, perhaps it’s no wonder that these boys are underrepresented in selective high schools and colleges.
  • Let’s take a moment to lavish some praise on a state whose merits are too seldom celebrated: Delaware. Last week, the First State became just the sixth state
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School leaders are responsible for nearly everything that happens in a school—from creating a positive culture to tracking data to evaluating instruction to hiring (or sometimes firing) the teachers who most affect student achievement. Despite this extraordinary amount of responsibility, many policymakers and reformers devote their time to crafting policies that affect teachers rather than principals. In light of this, we at Fordham began thinking over some important questions: Are schools doing an effective job of recruiting, selecting, and retaining great school leaders? Are principals being trained effectively, and is there meaningful ongoing support? Are principals empowered to make decisions and challenge the status quo? What’s the right balance between autonomy and accountability?

At a breakfast event on Tuesday, we hosted presentations and a panel discussion from a few experts in the field. First we talked with Dayton Public Schools (DPS) Superintendent Lori Ward, who shared how difficult it is for a large, urban district like hers to recruit and retain effective principals.

Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Lori Ward

Ward explained that of the 28 buildings in DPS, 20 are led by a principal with three...

The relationship between teacher experience and quality has been widely studied, as has the relationship between teacher experience and salary. The relationship between experience and total compensation—which includes both salary and retirement benefits—is often overlooked. In a new report, researchers from the Manhattan Institute have thrown open the curtains by calculating the total compensation for teachers with master’s degrees and varying years of experience in the country’s ten largest public school systems. They explain that, although the preponderance of research demonstrates that quality differences between teachers based upon experience tend to plateau after 5–7 years, most public school teachers still earn salaries according to fixed schedules that are based entirely on years of experience and advanced degrees. Retirement benefits are distributed in a similar way. Approximately 89 percent of public school teachers earn retirement benefits under final-average-salary-defined benefit (FAS-DB) pension plans, meaning that teachers earn a lifetime annuity available only after they reach their respective plans’ thresholds. These thresholds, like a salary schedule, are based on a combination of age and years of service. As a result, FAS-DB plans often backload retirement benefits.

The scale of backloading varies across plans. In New York City, for example, a teacher earns...

  • When the Los Angeles Board of Education voted to fire fifth-grade teacher Rafe Esquith last week over allegations of sexual misconduct, its members were doubtless aware of the potential for blowback. Esquith, whose myriad awards and world-renowned classroom productions of Shakespeare have made him the district’s most recognizable employee, can count influential friends both inside and outside the school system. And the circumstances of his termination—decided by a closed-door tribunal following an extensive investigation into his private life—do not argue in its favor. Now Esquith’s attorneys have filed a $1 billion class-action lawsuit against the district on behalf of thousands of teachers, claiming that they were targeted for dismissal because of their age and pending retirement windfalls. The accusations lodged against Esquith are ill defined, but serious. If accurate, they are surely serious enough to merit public examination of his record and methods. But if, as some prominent supporters claim, the investigation was a panicked overcorrection in response to earlier scandals, this story could become more bizarre and tragic than it has already. Either way, this is a disciplinary process in dire need of greater transparency.
  • The saddest and most illuminating thing you’ll read all
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The relationship between teacher experience and quality has been widely studied, as has the relationship between teacher experience and salary. The relationship between experience and total compensation—which includes both salary and retirement benefits—is often overlooked. In a new report, researchers from the Manhattan Institute have thrown open the curtains by calculating the total compensation for teachers with master’s degrees and varying years of experience in the country’s ten largest public school systems. They explain that, although most research demonstrates that quality differences between teachers based upon experience tend to plateau after 5–7 years, most public school teachers still earn salaries according to fixed schedules that are based entirely on years of experience and advanced degrees. Retirement benefits are distributed in a similar way. Approximately 89 percent of public school teachers earn retirement benefits under final-average-salary-defined benefit (FAS-DB) pension plans, meaning that teachers earn a lifetime annuity available only after they reach their respective plans’ threshold. These thresholds, like a salary schedule, are based on a combination of age and years of service. As a result, FAS-DB plans often backload retirement benefits.

The scale of backloading varies across plans. In New York City, for example, a teacher earns an average...

Writing in his always-entertaining blog a few weeks ago, Whitney Tilson gave a nice nod to Dan Willingham’s New York Times op-ed addressing the sorry state of American teacher preparation. Amid effusive praise of the piece, Whitney writes, “I think morphemes and phonemes matter too but maybe not as much as Willingham does.”  
 
This gently stated but dismissive view of the importance of reading instruction troubles me because I think it captures a viewpoint widely shared by many education reformers.
 
I don’t think it’s because there are many education reformers who reject the science here (unlike many in teacher preparation). Researchers long ago identified the reading methods that would reduce the current deplorable rate of reading failure from 30 percent to somewhere well south of 10 percent, if only schools would take that step. Teacher preparation programs that fail to impress upon elementary teacher candidates the integral connection between spoken sounds and written words are essentially committing malpractice.
  
Instead, I think the issue for some education reformers is that other reforms seem much more important. I can’t figure out why there are still perfectly reasonable, rational people who aren’t willing to embrace the 2 + 2...

  • No offence to the great Michelle Pfeiffer or Morgan Freeman, but it seems like the last thing the world needs is another account of a crusading educator helping gang members turn their lives around. (The scenario isn’t improbable, exactly, just overexposed; things might seem fresher if studios ever made movies about social workers ministering to white collar crooks or county clerks counseling unwed mothers.) But there’s a great story this week about John King, tied to the announcement of his appointment as acting secretary of education, that may restore your faith in the subgenre. While serving the department in a lesser role this August, he met with a group of former convicts at Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles organization that provides resources to ex-offenders. King was probably the ideal man for the setting. Orphaned by the age of twelve and later expelled from high school, he could have very easily fallen into delinquency himself; plus, he had to face down throngs of screaming Common Core opponents in his former job as the New York State education commissioner, so he’s definitely not daunted by tough rooms. But if King can share space with hardened felons and irate
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Editor's note: This post was originally published in a slightly different form by the Seventy Four; click to see Antonucci’s deeper analysis of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

In its 2015–16 term, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider a case that weighs the respective rights of teachers’ unions and the individuals who choose not to join them. If the court’s decision goes as expected, it will inflict a significant financial blow on teachers’ unions, even while improving the financial lot of many teachers themselves.

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the court will examine the legality of “agency fees”—payments that public sector unions in twenty-one states are allowed to charge workers who decline to join their ranks. The unions call them “fair-share fees,” arguing that every teacher in a bargaining unit benefits from collective bargaining, so every teacher should chip in to cover the costs.

Public school teacher Rebecca Friedrichs and her fellow plaintiffs beg to differ. They maintain that the compulsory fees violate their First Amendment rights to free speech and free association. Supreme Court watchers on the Left and Right agree that the court is likely to decide for the plaintiffs on these grounds.

No one...

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