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...

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 ...