Tag Archives: Teacher quality

Strengthen schools by firing bad teachers

“I believe that sometimes firing teachers is exactly the right thing to do.” That’s Rick Hess, writing on the ASCD blog. When he suggested that New York City schools do that, he received, as you might expect, some vigorous responses, which he relates on the ASCD blog.

The responses on the ASCD blog, meanwhile, aren’t much more postitive to Hess’s ideas. In general, the people who left comments there seem to believe that there is no such thing as a bad teacher. Such a notion strains credulity, as it would make the teaching profession the only line of work in which nobody is below average.

Colorado Enacts New Teacher Reforms

Colorado may be the new national leader when it comes to changing the way we employ teachers. The Denver Post offers the following summary of a bill that is heading to the desk of Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat:

New teachers will earn nonprobationary status after three positive annual evaluations, half of which will be calculated by their student’s academic growth.

Veteran teachers could lose nonprobationary status after two consecutive “ineffective” evaluations.

Veteran teachers displaced from jobs will be allowed two years to find a position before they are taken off the payroll. Teachers and schools must approve of their placement under a “mutual consent” system.

A two-year grace period? That’s generous, to say the least, but fact that teachers deemed “ineffective” could be removed is (unfortunately) revolutionary. In addition, teachers who receive an “ineffective” rating can appeal the decision to binding arbitration.

Representatives from both The New Teacher Project and the National Council on Teacher Quality give the measure high praise.

The legislative web site is not user-friendly; I had to download a version of the bill in WordPerfect (who uses WordPerfect anymore?), and can’t find an easy way to upload it to this site. I think you can download a copy in PDF.

The perils and promise of value-added measures of teacher quality

One “final frontier” in school policy is this: Can we determine which teachers are better than others, and if so, how do we do that and what do we do going forward?

The Urban Institute has recently published a paper by Eric A. Hanushek and Steven G. Rivkin (Using Value-Added Measures of Teacher Quality) that describes the perils and promises of such an approach. (In brief, the idea is to test students at the beginning of the year,  test them again at the end of the year, and see how much they’ve learned. That is, don’t judge a teacher by the absolute test scores of his or her students, but look instead at how much the students learned over the year. Ideally, do this for several years.) What follows is not quite a summary,  but it is my attempt to rephrase in “normal” (non-academic) English some of the key points of the paper.

What we know already

We know two things from the literature on student achievement:

One. Not all teachers are equally effective. (Effectiveness is defined as “value added to student achievement or future academic attainment or earnings.”)

Two. When deciding whether to hire a teacher or how much to to pay a teacher, schools look at the number of postgraduate credits, years of experience, and scores on licensing examination scores. None of these items “explain little of the variation in teacher quality.” The exception is that teachers with very little experience are not as effective as those with some.

Getting technical

Researchers typically use an “education production function” to evaluate the effects of a teacher. The function is a mathematical formula (something like regression analysis, roughly) that predicts the achievement of a student in year 2 by adding a number of variables to the student’s achievement in the first year. The variables include:

  • School and peer factors
  • Family and neighborhood factors
  • Other variables we don’t know
  • The effects of the teacher

How much difference can having an effective teacher make?

Research has found that there’s more variation in teacher effectiveness for math than there is for reading.

Here’s one way of stating the power of teacher effectiveness:

“Having a teacher at the 25th percentile” of of quality rankings would move a student from being at the 50th percentile in math performance to the 59th percentile.

To put that number in comparison, that gain would  eliminate at least 20 percent of the black-white achievement gap. It would also be equivalent to reducing classes by 10 students.

Eliminating the bottom 6 to 10 percent of teachers could “have strong impacts on student achievement, even if these teachers were replaced permanently by just average teachers.”

What role should value-added measures play in personnel policies?

So why don’t use value-added measurements of teacher effectiveness in personnel decisions? There are “concerns about accuracy, fairness, and potential adverse effects of incentives based on limited outcomes,” [e.g., “teaching to the test.] But that doesn’t mean we should abandon all uses of such measurements.

The last paragraph is worth quoting in full:

All in all, cataloging the potential imperfections of a value-added measurement is simple, but so is cataloging the imperfections of the current system with limited performance incentives and inadequate evaluations of teachers and administrators. Potential problems certainly suggest that statistical estimates of quality based on student achievement in reading and mathematics should not constitute the sole component of any evaluation system. even so, the key policy question is whether value-added measures, despite short-comings, can provide valuable information to improve personnel decisions that currently rely on limited information about teacher effectivenessand often provide weak performance incentives to teachers and administrators. The case for objective measures is likely strongest in urban or rural areas where there is more limited competition among public and private schools. In such places, a hybrid approach to evaluation in which value-added measures constitute one of several components may have great promise.

[emphasis added]

Creating a New Teaching Profession

Schools can’t control everything that affects a child’s education, we’re often told. Family poverty and disdain for education, for example, can play a significant role.

But what about the things that a school can directly control? How about, say, the quality of the teacher in the classroom?

The Urban Institute has a new book offering some ideas for making sure that the best teachers are in school classrooms. Dan Goldhaber and Jane Hannaway’s book is called Creating a New Teaching Profession.

Part one of the book explains why we need reform. Part two offers ideas for reform, in areas such as professional development and “teacher deselection.” Part three poses and asks the question, “Yes, fine, but what will the world think about it?”

According a the press release for the book, “current systems for training, hiring, retaining, and rewarding teachers not only are imperfect, but are detrimental to building the best teacher workforce possible.”

You can read the first chapter of the book online (no PDF reader required!). It reminds us that “having multiple effective teachers versus multiple ineffective teachers can make or break a student’s entire schooling experience.”

Education Week, meanwhile, has a write-up of the book, which will give you an idea of its themes. What I find most interesting, though, are the public comments on the story. They can be summed up this way: “Don’t blame teachers! And don’t think you can evaluate us, either!”

A Reform agenda from Minnesota

Tim Pawlenty, governor of Minnesota, has an education agenda that Kansas might want to consider. Some of the elements include:

  • “Require that candidates for college teacher preparation programs pass the basic skills test prior to entry into the program.”
  • “Authorize alternative teacher preparation and licensure programs provided by various types of qualified providers to create pathways for mid-career professionals and others to earn a teaching license.”
  • Change tenure so that it’s given in five-year, renewable periods.

It sounds as if the governor has been paying attention to the National Council on Teacher Quality.

For a few years now, Minnesota has had a weak version of a merit pay system called Q-Comp. An analysis conducted for the state Department of Education says the program has some benefits, though the Office of the Legislative Auditor has found that the program has not always been administered properly. In particular, “Q Comp’s effect on student achievement cannot be adequately measured using existing data.”

In keeping with the theme of posts from last week, Minnesota scores higher than the national average on math and reading on the Nation’s Report Card. Like Kansas, it is a whiter-than-average state, so I looked at the percentage of white students who are at or above the proficiency level, as a quick way of controlling for demographics. Minnesota does well, scoring above the national average on grade 4 and 8 mathematics as well as grade 8 reading.

Newsweek: Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers

Public schools have seen more than their share of fads. Yet it’s been easy to over look the obvious, say Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert, writing in Newsweek: “Yet in recent years researchers have discovered something that may seem obvious, but for many reasons was overlooked or denied. What really makes a difference, what matters more than the class size or the textbook, the teaching method or the technology, or even the curriculum, is the quality of the teacher” (emphasis added).

So how do public schools manage teachers? Not well. They work according to union seniority rules and the widget effect, which says that one teacher is as good as another. Generally, state policies regarding personnel policies on teachers are “broken, outdated and inflexible.” As a result, states “are complicit in keeping ineffective teachers in the classroom,” says the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)

Kansas, and other states for that matter, would get more out of its public school dollars if it required districts to have policies along the lines suggested by the Widget Effect report and the NCTQ.

Effective policies for teachers is especially important for students from educationally-challenged families. But those children are getting a bum deal, say the Newsweek reporters: “It is also true and unfortunate that often the weakest teachers are relegated to teaching the neediest students, poor minority kids in inner-city schools. For these children, teachers can be make or break.”

What’s the problem?

But here is the rub. Although many teachers are caring and selfless, teaching in public schools has not always attracted the best and the brightest. There once was a time when teaching (along with nursing) was one of the few jobs not denied to women and minorities. But with social progress, many talented women and minorities chose other and more highly compensated fields. One recent review of the evidence by McKinsey & Co., the management consulting firm, showed that most schoolteachers are recruited from the bottom third of college-bound high-school students. (Finland takes the top 10 percent.)

At the same time, the teachers’ unions have become more and more powerful. In most states, after two or three years, teachers are given lifetime tenure. It is almost impossible to fire them.

The problem starts with laws that grant tenure far too easily and far too quickly in a teacher’s career. It extends to principals who can’t or won’t evaluate teachers, as well a culture of low expectations. Some charter schools (such as those operated by KIPP) do well, but can their success be replicated on a large scale?