Teachers

Teachers don’t agree on much. Ask about curriculum, pedagogy, school culture, or discipline and you’re likely to encounter deeply held and conflicting opinions. But if there’s one belief that unites nearly all of the nation’s three million teachers, it’s this: Professional development sucks.

Indeed, before diving into this report from New America, I posted a note on Facebook asking my educator friends to play a game of word association. The phrase “professional development” quickly generated dozens of responses, including “Pay hike scheme,” “Waste of time,” “Nightmare suckfest run by non-teachers,” “Paid to drink the district Kool-Aid,” and simply “Kill me now.” One response summarized K–12’s relationship with professional development perfectly: “Generally crap. Could be awesome.”

So we agree that it’s generally crap, yet we lavish time and money on it hoping that it will be awesome. Our faith is largely misplaced: Despite an estimated $18 billion spent on PD per year, little evidence exists linking any of it to consistently effective improvement in teacher practices or student outcomes. Enter Melissa Tooley and Kaylan Connally, the authors of this report, who note that it makes no sense to bemoan the execrable state of PD until or unless there is agreement on what...

Last year’s biennial budget (HB 64) required Ohio to define what it means to be a “consistently high-performing teacher” by July 1, a date that is fast approaching. This particular provision aimed to make life easier for such teachers by excusing them from the requirement to complete additional coursework (and shell out extra money) each time they renew their licenses. It also exempts them from additional professional development requirements prescribed by their districts or schools. Who could oppose freeing some of our best teachers from a couple of burdensome mandates?

More people than you might think, starting with the group tasked with defining “consistently high-performing”: the Ohio Educator Standards Board. The board recently “voted unanimously to oppose the law” according to Gongwer News—never mind the fact that the law passed last year and contesting it now is futile. Chairwoman Sandra Orth said that defining a high-performing teacher was disrespectful and unproductive. Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT) President Melissa Cropper also weighed in, calling it “another slap in the face to our profession.” Meanwhile, state board of education member A.J. Wagner characterized this provision as a “law that was made to be broken” and urged fellow members to follow...

A new study by WestEd researchers looks at the validity of ratings from the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching, a very popular classroom observation instrument often used in teacher evaluation systems.

The study is small in scope, examining the framework’s use in just one district (Nevada’s Washoe County, which we profiled a few years ago for its work in implementing the Common Core.) Its purpose was to determine whether the ratings differentiate among teachers, measure distinct areas of teaching practice, and link to teacher effectiveness.

The data cover 713 Washoe elementary, middle, and high school teachers (both tenured and non-tenured) who were observed on all twenty-two components of the Danielson instrument in the 2012–13 school year. The instrument covers four domains: planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities. Each domain has five or six components that roll up into a single four-point rating for the domain (from ineffective to highly effective).

Key findings: Ratings showed at least 90 percent of teachers were rated effective or highly effective on nearly every one of the twenty-two components, with “effective” the most common rating. So principals tend to use the ratings to discriminate between effective and highly effective teachers but...

Lisa Hansel

If there were just one thing I could say to fans of open educational resources (OER) and personalized learning, it would be this: “Atomized units of knowledge don’t build anything.” That quote comes from an education reformer who used to teach in a high-powered classical school. She and her colleagues delivered the type of rigorous, well-rounded, and carefully sequenced education that has produced thoughtful leaders and scholars for thousands of years; schooling of that sort is often dismissed as too hard for most kids or too twentieth-century for today.

Sadly, in dismissing the classical or liberal arts approach, we’ve also unintentionally thwarted our most sacred goal: that all students become strong readers. As the last several decades of literacy research clearly demonstrate, reading comprehension requires a very broad base of academic knowledge and a massive vocabulary. In short, to be a good reader, you have to know all of the terms and ideas that writers will use without providing definitions or explanations (e.g., Supreme Court, solar system, David and Goliath, etc.). This base of knowledge, which literate adults are assumed to have and children therefore need to accumulate, is enormous. We must be highly efficient in order to give them all...

A new study by Dan Goldhaber and colleagues examines whether a teacher candidate exam (“edTPA”) predicts both the likelihood of employment in the teacher workforce and of teacher effectiveness via value-added measures.

edTPA is a performance-based assessment developed by Linda Darling Hammond and other researchers at Stanford. It is administered to would-be teachers during their student teaching experience. Like the National Boards, it’s a portfolio-based assessment that includes between three and five videotaped lessons from candidates, as well as lesson plans, student work samples, evidence of student learning, and reflective commentaries written by candidates. The test assesses three areas (planning, instruction, and assessment); it includes fifteen scoring rubrics, for a maximum summative score of seventy-five; and it comprises assessments for twenty-seven different teaching fields, such as early childhood, secondary science, and special education. At present, edTPA is used in six hundred teacher education programs in forty states, and passing it is a licensure requirement in seven of them (states determine the passing score). Candidates pay $300 for the exam and can re-submit any failed tasks.

The study’s dataset comprises roughly 2,300 teacher candidates in Washington State teacher education programs who took the edTPA in the 2013–14 school year. (Results, for...

Gary Johnson, the former two-term governor of New Mexico, is the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee. He’ll face off (with running mate William Weld) in November against the Republican Party's Donald Trump and Mike Pence and the Democratic Party's Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. Here are some of his views on education:

  1. School choice: “I think I was more outspoken than any governor in the country regarding school choice—believing that the only way to really reform education was to bring competition to public education. So for six straight years as governor of New Mexico, I proposed a full-blown voucher system that would’ve brought about that competition.” August 2012.
  2. Federal role in education: “I think that the number-one thing that the federal government could do when it comes to the delivery of education would be to abolish itself from the education business….It’s also important to point out that the federal Department of Education was established in 1979. And there is nothing to suggest that, since 1979, that the federal Department of Education has been value-added regarding anything. So just get the federal government out of education.” August 2012.
  3. Common Core: “[Gary Johnson] opposes Common Core and any other attempts to impose national standards and requirements
  4. ...

In economics, it’s commonly accepted that specialization maximizes productivity. As Adam Smith preached, specialized workers are better able to hone their skills, become more efficient, and require less transition time between tasks. When Henry Ford divided automobile production into many smaller tasks along an assembly line, for example, output improved significantly.

A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) applies this philosophy to education, exploring whether teacher specialization (strategically assigning teachers to fewer subjects like math, reading, science, and/or social studies) improves productivity in elementary schools. Proponents of specialization argue that sorting teachers by areas of strength allows them to master subject content and spend more time on lesson planning. It may even increase teacher retention rates. In addition, some argue that early specialization might also ease the transition into middle and high school, where single-subject teaching in norm. Others caution that while specialized instructors teach less content, they teach it to a larger number of students. When specialized teachers aren’t able to get to know their students as well and tailor instruction accordingly, do learning outcomes suffer?

Author Roland Fryer explores these potential tradeoffs by randomly assigning fifty elementary schools in Houston to treatment and...

Rachel Skerritt

As the instructional leaders within schools, principals hold the key to education reform. The principal serves as the mission driver and resource strategist for families, community partners, faculty, staff, and students. In DC Public Schools, these duties bring enormous rewards, but also immense pressure: Principals have implemented rigorous common assignments across content areas and grade levels; launched a successful teacher-leader initiative that allows strong educators to assume leadership roles and remain in the classroom; and helped DCPS achieve the status of fastest-improving urban school district (twice) on the most recent NAEP assessments—all while doing the daily work of schooling.

The DCPS principal force understands the impact of every decision related to instruction, hiring, operations, and community building. And with the myriad skills needed to manage the demands of a busy campus, it is essential that DCPS build a pipeline of strong talent to lead our 115 schools for years to come. This was the impetus for starting an internal principal training program at DC Public Schools.

In 2013, the Mary Jane Patterson (MJP) Fellowship was established. Named after the district’s first African American principal, the program prepares high-performing DCPS educators for principal positions in DCPS schools. Fellows complete an eighteen-month, cohort-based series...

M. René Islas and Joy Lawson Davis

It is disheartening that, in 2016, the recognition of gifted students of color may be more dependent on the race of their teachers than their demonstrated abilities. But for those of us in the trenches of gifted education, it is clear that students’ race or socioeconomic status far too often dictate whether they will be identified and served as gifted learners. Of students enrolled in gifted programs, only 9 percent are black, whereas more than 60 percent are white. This is unacceptable.

For decades, our nation has done a poor job of prioritizing the identification of gifted students across the board. As the 2015 State of the States in Gifted Education highlighted, too few teachers receive any substantive preparation in working with gifted students before entering the classroom, and professional development support focused on gifted education strategies is minimal. If few teachers are trained to recognize the signs of giftedness, high-ability students are at a disadvantage. This is particularly true of black and Hispanic students and those of modest means, who may lack the academic and psycho-social supports to aggressively pursue the necessary services.

This study raises some interesting findings about the value of a teaching corps that reflects the diversity of...

This study examines the impact of test-based accountability on teacher attendance and student achievement using data from North Carolina. Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), schools that failed to make “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) toward universal proficiency in consecutive years faced a series of escalating sanctions. Thus, teachers at schools that failed one year had a strong incentive to boost achievement in the next, while those at other schools faced a weaker incentive.

Using a difference-in-differences approach that compares these groups, the author estimates that failing to make AYP in NCLB’s first year led to a 10 percent decline in teacher absences in the following year (or roughly one less absence per teacher). He also estimates that an additional teacher absence reduces math achievement by about .002 standard deviations, implying that schools that failed to make AYP saw a similar boost in achievement because of improved teacher attendance. However, in a separate analysis, he shows that the threat of sanctions led to a .06 standard deviation improvement in math achievement in the following year, suggesting that improved teacher attendance accounted for just 3 percent of all accountability-driven achievement gains.

In addition to the general decline in teacher absences,...

Pages