The high cost of low teacher quality

Education Sector’s How Low Teacher Quality Sabotages Advanced High School Math is a must-read. Kevin Carey summarizes:

Students who take advanced math courses in schools that employ the fewest well-qualified teachers are far less likely to be adequately prepared for college, or to succeed in college, than students who take the same courses — or even less advanced courses — at schools with the most well-qualified teachers. Students who fail to take advanced courses do poorly across the board. But it turns out that simply enrolling students in more advanced classes isn’t enough — you also need good teachers to teach them.

Illinois makes all 11th graders take the ACT. The llinois Education Research Council combined ACT scores and high school grades to rate each students’ college readiness.

To create a Teacher Quality Index (TQI), researchers looked at factors correlated with effectiveness: graduation from a “more competitive” college, less than four years of teaching experience, emergency or provisional teaching credentials, one or more failures on the basic skills test for new teachers, composite ACT score and English ACT score.

Few students who took only algebra and geometry were ready for college regardless of their school’s Teacher Quality Index. But TQI correlates with college readiness for students who completed advanced algebra, trigonometry and calculus.

Students who took Calculus in the lowest TQI schools were five times less likely to be well-prepared than students who took Calculus in the highest TQI schools. In fact, students who took Calculus in schools with a TQI below the 10th percentile had a lower preparedness rate (16 percent) than students who only took Algebra II in schools that were above the 25th percentile.

There is a confounding factor: Low-TQI schools tend to be high-poverty schools.

Low-income students, who face some of the greatest barriers to education, are much less likely to be taught by teachers with the best qualifications.

More than 90 percent of well-prepared students and 55 percent of least-prepared students enrolled in college. After three years, 10 percent of the top category and 41 percent of the lowest category had dropped out.

Take a look at the charts: At schools with a TQI in the lowest 11th-25th percentile, less than half of students motivated enough to tackle calculus are prepared to succeed in college. In the bottom 10 percent of TQI, fewer than 20 percent of calculus students are prepared.

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  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Gee – and I thought that class size reduction was the cure for everything that ails education.

  2. wayne martin says:

    > student readiness increases in lock-step with school TQI.

    This same relationship can be demonstrated with the CA STAR data for Math and English standardized tests, when the parents’ education is used as a predictor variable. This study has written the parents completely out of the picture, which clearly is not the case for children in K-12 schools.

  3. It would be useful to look at the college readiness of students in high-poverty schools with low, medium and (if there are any) high TQIs.

  4. There was once a program run by Lawrence Hall of science/UC Berkeley to help solve this problem. the method was to try and teach the math teachers who were teaching college prep courses at low performing high schools. the idea was to help support them to see what modern currrent college prep looked like. It involved sending in a outside facilitator to help teach one lesson a week, a college prep problem solving lesson, as well that facilitator working with the teacher to bring them up to speed on current materials.

    of course, this program had one major flaw: the facilitators were young adults with math backgrounds but no teaching experience, so they were dimally prepared for the classroom too. (but that was on purpose: leave the teacher in charge, just bring in new material. )

    it idn’t matter. the junior yr honors students had no hope anyway. they were bright kids who had never been assigned homework, and nothing was going to change that now. their teacher did one worksheet in the class period, that was all–no more work to drill. their teacher often did it wrong, and no outside facilitator was going to crrect that, or the reasons why. but still, the kids all had calculators but couldn’t tell you if they’d correctly entered a formula to save their lives. none of them *knew* what 7*9 was, lt alone the square root of 64. and yes, these were the college track kids. their teachers demanded nothing of them–so all the math instruction in the world for those teachers wasn’t going to help.

    the saddest part wasn’t the college track kids. it was seeing the sophs and jr boys on sports desperately trying to stay academically eligible, willing to come to school at 6:30 am for tutoring, who couldn’t pass geom I because they had never learned basic arithmetic.

    the school with this program that succeeded? Oakland Tech, which already had all the resources. the school that failed ? Castlemont, worst in the district.

  5. Roger Sweeny says:

    If this study doesn’t control for how well the students come in to the school, it is as silly as asserting that the sun comes up because roosters crow. I suspect what they are really picking up is students’ preparation, motivation, etc. I am pretty sure that schools with “better” students generally also have teachers with higher TQI.

  6. Roger Sweeny wrote:

    If this study doesn’t control for how well the students come in to the school, it is as silly as asserting that the sun comes up because roosters crow.

    If we’re going to get all scientifical about this then let’s run the definitive experiment: Two classes, one with a teacher the other without. If both classes test out at the same level of attainment after some reasonable period of time then we’ll know that not only is teacher quality immaterial but teacher presence is immaterial as well.

    An alternative hypothesis is that while teacher quality is immaterial, teacher presence is not. So one class gets someone claiming to be a teacher and the other class gets someone in a persistent, vegetative state – no wisecracks about administrators please.

    Lastly, will a sufficiently incompetent rooster prevent sunrise?

  7. Allen, I once had a “teacher” who might as well have been in a persistent, vegetative state. Protected by the union, he’d been spending every day in a classroom without bothering to try to teach for at least 20 years.