Teachers

We know that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor impacting student performance—and that the variation in teacher quality can be enormous, even within the same school. We also know that most teachers are paid according to step-and-lane salary schedules that exclusively reward years on the job and degrees earned. These systems pay no attention to instructional effectiveness, attendance, leadership and collaboration within one’s school, or any other attributes relevant to being a good worker.

When I entered the classroom at age twenty-two, I looked at my contract and realized I wouldn’t reach my desired salary until I was in my mid-to-late forties. I would reach that level regardless of whether I took one or fifteen sick days every year; whether I put in the bare minimum or a herculean effort (as many educators do in fact do); or whether I clocked out at 3:01 or stayed with my students to offer extra help. No matter the outcomes my kids achieved, my salary would steadily tick upward based only on time accrued. Predictable, yes. But given the urgent task at hand—to keep excellent educators at the instructional helm, address the challenges of burnout and attrition,...

A new Mathematica study revisits the effects of pay-for-performance on educators. It evaluates the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), which was established by Congress in 2006 and provides grants to support performance-based compensation for teachers and principals in high-need schools.

The TIF program has four components: measuring teacher and principal effectiveness using both student growth and classroom observations; offering bonuses based on effectiveness; enhancing pay for taking on additional roles or responsibilities; and providing professional development to help educators understand the pay-for-performance system.

From 2006 to 2012, the United States Department of Education awarded $1.8 billion to support 131 TIF grants. Mathematica’s study examines implementation of all sixty-two 2010 TIF grantees during the 2013–14 school year (for most of the grantees, this was three years into implementation).

It also separately reports impacts for a ten-district subset of 2010 grantees that participated in a random assignment study. Treatment schools were meant to all four TIF program components; they also received guidance on how to structure the bonuses, including admonitions that the bonuses should be substantial, differentiated, and challenging to earn. Control schools didn’t receive this guidance and were instead meant to implement every component except for the performance bonuses (they did receive...

How does teaching stack up to other occupations in terms of compensation? A recent analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), an organization with union ties, has gained attention for its findings on the growing teacher “wage gap.” Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey (BLS-CPS), the EPI analysts report a 17 percent disparity between teachers’ weekly wages relative to other college-educated workers. When they add generous benefits on top—including health care and pensions—that gap shrinks to 11 percent. These differences in wages and total compensation, the authors find, are much wider than what teachers faced in mid-1990s. Based on their analysis, they suggest raising teacher wages and benefits across the board.

Do the EPI authors get it right? There are a few problems with their analysis: They chose a questionable comparison group by looking at other college-educated workers, and they don’t account for summers off. (Also see economist Michael Podgursky’s Flypaper article, which argues that BLS benefits data undervalue teacher pensions, leading EPI to overstate the gap in total compensation.)

Let’s start with the problem of EPI’s comparison group—workers holding a college degree. By using this group as a benchmark,...

A new analysis from the National Council on Teacher Quality and the Brookings Institution examines the demographic gap between the current teaching workforce and students; its causes; ways to close it; and whether it will grow or shrink in the future. To do this, researchers pulled together data from a wide variety of sources, including the Census and National Center for Education Statistics, and used both descriptive analyses and projections.

Research clearly shows that regular interactions between students and adults of their own and different races is beneficial for academic achievement and behavior. Thus, the authors take as given that having a diverse workforce, in which teacher demographics mirror those of the student population, is a common goal for schools. (At the same time, the authors acknowledge that diversity does not supersede teacher quality as a driver of positive outcomes.)

The authors find that the pool of available minority teachers does not match the diversity of students now, and they predict that the mismatch will grow in the future. Minority students make up half of the public school student population, while minority teachers constitute only 18 percent of the workforce. The gap is particularly large for Hispanic students—at present, 26...

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) recently reviewed one hundred of the nation’s pre-K teacher preparation programs, attempting to answer whether pre-K teacher candidates are being adequately prepared for effectiveness in their future jobs. The answer is, largely, no.

The programs spanned twenty-nine states that certify pre-K teachers, most of them offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees. They reviewed course requirements and descriptions, course syllabi, student teaching observation and evaluation forms, and other course materials required for degree completion.

The bottom line, reported NCTQ, is that most of the programs spend far too much of their limited time focusing on how to teach older children rather than on the specific training needed to teach three- and four-year-olds. Some specific findings are neatly summarized in the following slides from NCTQ:

NCTQ recommends, among other things, that states narrow their licensure to certify educators to no more than the years between pre-K and third grade, rather than treating pre-K as a part of a broader elementary teaching credential; that they encourage teacher preparation programs to offer either more specialized degrees or early childhood education as...

Chronic absenteeism among students elicits serious concern for good reason. When pupils miss many days of school, they risk falling behind. This further puts them at risk of dropping out or being sucked into the criminal justice system through truancy proceedings, which is punitive for both students and their parents. (A bill proposed earlier this year would decriminalize truancy; Ohio lawmakers should revisit it soon.)

If attendance is so critical for students, isn’t it even more critical for teachers—especially since they are the most important in-school factor impacting student success? Yet data from the latest Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), a federal survey of all public schools in the country, demonstrates that teacher absenteeism is a pressing problem nationally and in Ohio.

We learn from the CRDC report (from the 2013–14 school year) that 28 percent of Ohio public school teachers (in traditional public and charter schools) were absent for ten or more days for sick or personal leave. This compares to 27 percent of teachers nationally. CRDC does not count paid professional development, field trips, or other off-campus activities with students, nor does this estimate include paid holidays or paid vacation...

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) recently reviewed one hundred of the nation’s pre-K teacher prep programs, attempting to answer whether pre-K teacher candidates are being taught what they need to know to be effective in their future jobs.[1] The answer is, largely, no. This should be sobering news, especially for folks here in Ohio as many head to the November ballot hell bent on expanding pre-K.

The bottom line, reported NCTQ, is that most of the programs reviewed spend far too much of their limited time on how to teach older children rather than on the specific training needed to teach three- and four-year-olds. Some specific findings are neatly summarized in the following slides from NCTQ:

NCTQ recommends, among other things, that states narrow their licensure to certify educators for no more than pre-K through third grade (as Ohio already does), rather than treating pre-K as a part of an overall elementary credential; that they encourage teacher prep programs to...

Catherine Worth

During my tenure as a teacher, I would inevitably listen to at least one of my colleagues explain their decision to leave the classroom at the end of each school year. When explaining their choice to throw in the towel, novice and veteran teachers alike would cite reasons along the lines of “This work is just too hard” or “I’m burned out and can’t do it anymore.” These teachers became part of a statistic we hear about often—the teacher turnover rate. Eventually, I joined them myself. Yet if my three years of teaching in a high-performing, majority-minority, urban charter school taught me anything, it’s that this revolving door can be a positive thing for schools and their students.

Teacher turnover is a buzzy concept typically used in conversations regarding school effectiveness and the issues plaguing urban schools. The 2012–13 Teacher Follow-up Survey to the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), commissioned by the National Center for Education and Statistics (NCES), found that 15.7 percent of public school teachers either moved schools or left the profession between 2011–12 and 2012–13. In charter schools, this number is slightly higher at 18.4 percent. Despite this meager difference, charter schools typically receive the most flack when...

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously quipped, but they are not entitled to their own facts. This idea animates "The Learning Landscape," a new, accessible, and engaging effort by Bellwether Education Partners to ground contemporary education debates in, well, facts.

A robust document, it’s divided into six “chapters” on student achievement; accountability, standards, and assessment; school finance; teacher effectiveness; charter schools; and philanthropy in K–12 education. Data on these topics can be found elsewhere, of course. Where this report shines is in offering critical context behind current debates, and doing so in an admirably even-handed fashion. For example, the section on charter schools tracks the sector’s growth and student demographics and offers state-by-state data on charter school adoption and market share (among many other topics). But it also takes a clear-eyed look at for-profit operators, the mixed performance of charters, and other thorny issues weighing on charter effectiveness. (Online charters are a hot-button topic that could have used more discussion). Sidebars on “Why Some Charters Fail” and case studies on issues facing individual cities lend the report heft and authority, along with discussions on authorizing, accountability, and funding. In similar fashion, the chapter on standards and...

  • Good news from out west: According to a new study conducted jointly by Stanford, the University of Washington, and the RAND Corporation, our newer cohorts of teachers are entering the profession with appreciably better academic pedigrees than their predecessors of fifteen and twenty-five years ago. The researchers measured the SAT and ACT scores of about three thousand recently hired teachers across the United States from 1993, 2000, and 2008. While the Y2K-era newbies scored only in the thirty-ninth percentile for average SAT/ACT math, the 2008 group soared all the way to the commanding heights of the forty-sixth percentile! (Hey, any improvement is welcome, even if the beginning of the Great Recession probably played a role in ushering more qualified candidates into the profession.) If the news doesn’t exactly have you rushing for your party hats, consider this: Contrary to popular belief, the era of greater teacher accountability following No Child Left Behind hasn’t dissuaded good young candidates from entering the classroom.
  • You can do a lot to improve education for underprivileged kids—improve teacher quality, tighten up academic standards, institute cultures of accountability—and still not make much progress toward closing the achievement gap separating them from their more advantaged
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