Some teachers are better than others

Teacher effectiveness “is the key school-based variable we can control,” writes Michael Jonas in Commonwealth Magazine, “but almost none of the structures that have evolved over decades to govern how we hire, evaluate, pay, or assign teachers to classrooms are designed to operate with that in mind.”

We base hiring decisions on certification credentials that don’t seem to correlate highly with teacher quality. Most teachers receive only cursory performance evaluations, with virtually every teacher graded highly. We use a one-size-for-all salary structure, in which the only factors used in raises are a teacher’s higher education credentials and number of years in the system, neither of which is strongly linked to teacher effectiveness. And we often let seniority, rather than merit, drive decisions about where a teacher is placed.

Rating teachers on how much their students improve on standardized tests is tricky, Jonas concedes. But ignoring student performance perpetuates the status quo. We can get better at evaluating teachers based on effectiveness, he writes.

One area of research Harvard’s Tom Kane is now pursuing is to see how consistently classroom-based observations and other types of evaluations line up with the results of value-added assessments of a teacher’s effectiveness. The more they do correspond, he says, the greater the confidence we can have that teachers who rate highly in these non-quantitative assessments are also succeeding in promoting growth in student achievement.

The Gates Foundation will spend $500 million over five years to “research and implement strategies to identify effective teachers and increase their numbers in schools.” Kane will oversee the research.  The foundation also will fund school districts that redesign teacher evaluation, pay and retention.

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  1. Good teachers make for good teaching? The brilliance of the insight is simply breathtaking.

    I wonder if Bill Gates’ll kick a few of those $500 million over my way? I can supply the further brilliant insight that good principals make for good schools.

  2. But how can we *objectively* identify those good teachers, allen? That’s where the big money is going.

  3. One thing at a time Darren.

    Right now a good teacher’s skills simply are of no professional interest on an institutional basis. Oh sure, you’ll find the occasional principal who thinks it’s peachy to have good teachers working for them but by and large, who cares?

    But when teaching skills do become important I don’t think some bright, young creature will come up with the pedagogical equivalent of a Geiger counter.

    There’ll be objective measures as well as subjective measures but the way to deal with subjective measures is tie the fate of the subjective measurers to objective measures. A principal who insists on making decisions unsupported by evidence had better end up with a good school to show for their judgment or move on down the line.

  4. I think they are going at it the wrong way. Right now there is no incentive for principals or other administrators to hire better teachers. (no getting a student to pass a test is not indicative of a good teacher)
    As far as principals, school boards, etc are concerned one certified teacher is as good as another, except one is cheaper than another.

  5. And while the higher ups argue about gaining and retaining good teachers, we are getting smart enough to leave the profession in droves.

  6. Yup.

    Either all the professionals have a clear, measurable stake in improving the quality of the school or it’ll just be an exercise in frustration or, more likely, another way of funneling funding to the current system with education taking its usual when-we-get-around-to-it role.

  7. Mike Curtis says:

    If you apply to the concept of Administration as a career path, then the best teachers for a principal will be those who don’t bring any attention to the school. Careerists are at their best when nobody notices them. They play the pay scale and go to great lengths to avoid doing anything wrong. This typically results in them doing nothing at all.
    Principals who have the education of their students as their goal, will look, hire, and support teachers who believe their job is to teach.
    An intrinsic quality of all institutions is for the institution to preserve and reproduce itself. Therein, lies the Principal’s dilemna…preserve your status, or, risk making mistakes, and do what you’re paid to do.


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