Too many white teachers?

By fall, a majority of public school students will be non-white, while more than four in five teachers are white.


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Of 3.3 million public school teachers in 2012,  82 percent were white, 8 percent were Hispanic, 7 percent were black and about 2 percent were Asian, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

This year, 48 percent of the students in public schools are nonwhite — 23 percent Hispanic, 16 percent black and 5 percent Asian — and that percentage is increasing.

It’s not clear that minority students learn more from same-race or same-ethnicity teachers.

Schools with low-income, non-white, high-need students have trouble recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers, writes James Marshall Crotty in Forbes. “It is dispiriting to try to teach young people who do not want to be there.”

He recommends paying “the best teachers a dramatically increased salary to take the most difficult assignments, including teaching in schools with a high percentage of special needs students or where the learning culture is weak.”

Elevating the status of the teaching profession by raising quality and admissions standards would attract better teachers, Crotty argues.

Finally, volunteer mentors — ideally retired teachers — could observe novice teachers for their first year in the classroom in an apprentice-master model.

Change teacher prep, but how?

We need to change teacher training dramatically, writes Tom Kane in a Brookings Institution report. His model is the Flexner Report, which transformed medical education 100 years ago.

Kane thinks the new model will combine higher admissions standards for prospective teachers, improved training and greater selectivity — perhaps through “performance assessments” — in placing pre-service teachers in classrooms.

But it’s not clear what will work, he concedes. Can we really predict who’s going to be a good, average or lousy teacher?

Assigning one person to one classroom is a “profound error”, writes Grant Wiggins.

It hampers ongoing professional development, it breeds egocentrism, and makes it far too hard to get appropriate consistency across teachers concerning instructional quality, assessment, and grading.

So, what if we hired 4 teachers for 3 classrooms?

Teachers could observe each other, monitor novice teachers and specialize in their areas of strength, he argues.

Good English teachers improve math scores

Good English teachers raise their students’ reading, writing and math performance for years, according to a working paper by a team of Stanford and University of Virginia researchers. Effective math teachers raise achievement only in math.

Researchers followed 700,000 New York City students  in third through eighth grade from 2003-04 to 2011-12.  Good English language arts or math teachers “not only produce higher than expected test scores during the year that they are teaching the students, but their students go on to score better in that subject in subsequent years,” they found.

More surprising were the crossover effects from English to math. The researchers found that the students of good English language arts teachers had higher than expected math scores in subsequent years. And this long-term boost to math performance was nearly as large (three quarters) as the long-term benefits within the subject of English. Conversely, good math teachers had only minimal long-term effects on English performance.

“Long-term benefits to good teaching were smaller in schools dominated by minority and low-income students,” the study found.

2014: It’s time for universal proficiency!

It’s 2014:  All students will be proficient in reading and math, Mike Petrilli reminds us. It’s the law!

Each State shall establish a timeline for adequate yearly progress. The timeline shall ensure that not later than 12 years after the end of the 2001–2002 school year, all students in each group described in subparagraph (C)(v) will meet or exceed the State’s proficient level of academic achievement.

– No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, section 1111(2)(F)

The next time someone talks about all students being college and career ready, a highly effective teacher in every classroom or eradicating childhood poverty, remember “universal proficiency by 2014,” Petrilli suggests.

The No Child Left Behind generation — today’s 11th graders started school after the law passed — are doing better he writes. 

NCLB kids were fourth graders in 2007:

Reading scores for the lowest-performing students and for black and Hispanic students all shot up four points (almost half a grade) over 2002’s baseline and math scores went up a whopping five points for all students, for white students, and for Hispanic students over a 2003 baseline, and black scores rocketed an incredible six points.

And in 2011, as eighth graders:

Reading scores for the lowest-performing students and for black students shot up four points over 2007’s baseline, while Hispanic students gained five points, and math scores were up three points over 2007, with Hispanic students gaining five points.

Yet just a third of the NCLB Generation had become proficient readers by the eighth grade. For Blacks and Hispanics, it was 15 and 19 percent, respectively. The results for mathematics were just a few points higher.

Still, these incremental gains add up to about half a year of extra learning, on average, writes Petrilli. That’s not enough, but it’s something.

Next time around, the goals should be high but achievable, writes Petrilli. For example, in the next six years, let’s try to get the national average to the level already achieved by Massachusetts students.

Making the most of the best teachers

If effective teachers taught more students — and weaker teachers had smaller classes — everyone would learn more, according to Right-Sizing the Classroom. Michael Hansen, senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research, analyzed North Carolina data.

At the eighth-grade level, assigning up to 12 more students than average to effective teachers can produce gains equivalent to adding two-and-a-half extra weeks of school, Hansen concluded. Three-quarters of that gain can be realized by moving six students. There are smaller gains at the fifth-grade level.

The benefits of assigning more students to the best teachers are the equivalent of firing the worst 5 percent of teachers, Hansen concluded. Unequal class size would be politically difficult, even with bonuses, but it’s easier than firing the incompetent.

In a survey last year, 73 percent of parents preferred a class of 27 students — “taught by one of the district’s best performing teachers” — over a class of 22 students “taught by a randomly chosen teacher.”

In a 2006 study, 83 percent of  Washington state teachers said they’d prefer an extra $5,000 in pay to having two fewer students in their classes. (Two is not a very large number.)

“Right-sizing” also is a way to sidestep merit pay while rewarding good teachers, the study observes. Bonuses would be “extra pay for extra work.”

What’s next for effective teachers?

Rated “highly effective” in the Los Angeles Timesanalysis of value-added scores, fifth-grade teacher Miguel Aguilar faced jealousy from other teachers. Now he’s sharing his teaching techniques with his colleagues — and facing a layoff in the fall, reports the Times.

Many of Aguilar’s students — mostly low-income and Latino — started in the bottom 30% but scored well above average at the end of the year. By contrast, the teacher in the next classroom, John Smith,  ranked among the district’s least effective teachers. Aguilar, who has eight years seniority, received a pink slip warning he may be laid off; Smith, with 15 years’ seniority, will keep his job, even if cuts are severe.

Aguilar said he “went through hell” when the article came out, he told the Times.

“There’s a lot of jealousy and hate out there…. People said things like, ‘There’s this guy who thinks he’s all good just because he’s Latino and he’s friends with the kids. How do you know he’s not cheating?’”

However, teachers — including Smith — began coming to Aguilar for help. The principal and teachers say there’s “a new openness to talking about what works, an urgent desire to improve.”

Top teachers will be head-hunted for jobs as teaching coaches, predicts Michael Goldstein on Starting an Ed School. Teachers like Aguilar with high value-added scores should be recruited as coaches, leaders, higher-paid teachers or teachers who get “curriculum freedom, assistance with certain tasks, flexible funds for student projects or trips’ or whatever else they want, he writes.

High-scoring schools now get hundreds of visitors. The same should apply to unusually effective teachers, writes Goldstein, who founded Boston’s MATCH school.