Will pre-K lead to burnout?

Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K (VPK) program produced no long-term academic or behavioral gains, according to a Vanderbilt study. Controls were children whose parents applied for pre-K but didn’t get a space.

Tennessee’s pre-K program is as high quality as other state pre-K programs, write researchers Dale C. Farran and Mark W. Lipsey. If uneven quality explains the disappointing results, it’s an issue for all state pre-K programs.

VPK children scored higher on achievement tests at the start of kindergarten and teachers said they had better behaviors than the controls. However, by the spring, both groups were doing equally well on academics and kindergarten teachers said the non-VPK students were better behaved.

First grade teachers rated the VPK children “as less well prepared for school, having poorer work skills in the classrooms, and feeling more negative about school,” write Farran and Lipsey.

In second and third grades, the VPK group did worse on academic measures than the controls. Teachers saw no difference in children’s behavior or attitudes.

Tennessee designed the program with care, the researchers write. VPK meets more of the National Institute for Early Education Research quality benchmarks than programs in Florida, Texas,  Massachusetts, Louisiana and New Mexico.

Fade out is a common pattern, Farran and Lipsey write. But why did kids do worse? They suspect burnout from “too much repetition of the same content and instructional format.”

Rather than building enthusiasm for learning, confidence in their abilities and a foundational understanding of literacy and math, the programs may only be teaching children how to behave in school, an enthusiasm that fades with repeated exposure.

“I suspect it’s not a coincidence that programs derided as “low quality” tend to be very large,” writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg View. “The benefits of small intensive programs designed by top-flight researchers” tend to vanish “when you kick a vast government bureaucracy into gear.”

In the 1990s, Quebec started a low-cost universal child care program, notes McArdle. It’s produced few cognitive benefits and children are doing worse on non-cognitive measures, a new study finds.

The case for turnover

After praising E.D. Kain’s defense of job security for teachers in Forbes, Atlantic blogger Megan McArdle makes the case for firing teachers.

She assumes that teacher quality matters, even if it can’t erase the effects of dysfunctional families, and that it’s possible to identify very bad teachers,though  much harder to determine who’s mediocre.

She proposes raising pay in exchange for offering less job security, attracting more risk takers to teaching. The job now appeals to  people who value “good early retirement benefits” and a low risk of being fired, she writes. 

 Minimizing teacher turnover shouldn’t be the goal, McArdle argues. Despite its costs, turnover  “also has benefits: fresh blood, lower burnout rates, and an incentive for teachers to keep performing.”

 The whole idea of hiring someone in their early twenties and employing them forever . . . breeds an organization that is insular — resistant to new ideas, suspicious of outsiders, resentful of its nominal clients.  We should be looking for ways to make teaching more open to part-timers and people in second, third, or eighth career cycles, and to make it easier for teachers to move around between schools and districts, and between teaching and other industries.

Teaching should be a “high-intensity, high-reward job,” McArdle writes. “We’re going to get people burning out.”  They should move on to other jobs.

Read the whole thing and see what you think.

Teachers in high-poverty schools

Teachers in high-poverty schools are only slightly less effective than teachers in low-poverty schools, concludes a study conducted in Florida and North Carolina. But the least-effective teachers in high-poverty schools are worse than the least-effective teachers in affluent schools, according to a new analysis (pdf) from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, or CALDER. That means low-income students are more likely to be taught be a very bad teacher.

“Teaching experience seem to improve a teacher’s effectiveness in a low-poverty school, but less so in a high-poverty school,” writes Stephen Sawchuk on Teacher Beat.  After awhile, teachers in tough working environments burn out.

The bottom line of the study, according to the authors: Simply attempting to import teachers with great credentials into high-poverty schools probably won’t make a long-term difference. Instead, “measures that induce highly effective teachers to move to high-poverty schools and which promote an environment in which teachers’ skills will improve over time are more likely to be successful.”

Go here for more on strategies to get good teachers to high-poverty schools.

Extend the school day, but do it right

Extend the school day to make time for academics and foreign languages, sports, music, drama, debate and other enriching activities, writes Sehba Ali, chief academic officer for KIPP’s Bay Area schools, in Newsweek.

I met the dynamic Ali when she was recruiting students for KIPP Heartwood Academy, a public charter school in San Jose that ranks in the top 10 percent of California schools, despite its low-income, minority enrollment. KIPP’s school day typically goes from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., along with a mandatory three-week summer-school program, Ali notes.

But a long school day that’s all math and reading will burn out students, Ali warns. Teacher burn-out also is a risk.

At KIPP, we build in time during the day for teachers to meet with colleagues in the same grade or subject, enabling them to share lesson plans and coordinate instruction. This not only saves time for teachers but also helps ensure that expectations for both behavior and academics are consistent in every classroom. My school’s teacher-retention rate isn’t perfect, but while recent studies show that more than half of educators leave in the first five years, we keep 82 percent annually.

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have called for a longer school day and year. Hundreds of schools are changing their schedules to provide more learning time for students. But I think Ali is right: More time for the same, old teaching is more likely to exhaust than enlighten. And it’s important to design school schedules that work for teachers who aren’t hyperactive 23-year-olds with no personal lives.