‘Grit’ helps teachers too

Grit isn’t just for students. Gritty teachers are more effective in high-poverty schools, concludes a new study in Teachers College Record, by Penn researchers Claire Robertson-Kraft and Angela Duckworth. New teachers with higher levels of “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”  (aka “grit”) were less likely to quit and more likely to be rated effective, notes Ed Week.

Raters scored 461 novice teachers’ resumes to evaluate multi-year persistence.

The highest score of 6 might go to a gritty teacher who was a “member of the cross-country team for four years and voted MVP in senior year” and was also  “founder and president for two years of the university’s Habitat for Humanity chapter.” The unnamed teacher-training organization that provided the data for the study is now using a version of this rating system as one of multiple tools to help make hiring decisions.

The study used the teacher-training group’s assessment of effectiveness, which was based on several different measures of student achievement.

How a charter network evaluates teachers

Evaluating teachers’ effectiveness is a priority for the Aspire network of 37 charter schools, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. It’s not just about test scores.

When Eva Kellogg’s bosses evaluated her performance as a teacher, they observed her classes. They reviewed her lesson plans. They polled her students, their parents and other teachers. And then they took a look at her students’ standardized test scores.

When the lengthy process was over, the eighth-grade English teacher at Aspire Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy in Oakland had received the highest rank possible.

She was a master teacher.

And based on her job performance, she got a $3,000 bonus as well as a metaphorical front-row seat at one of the biggest battles in public education: how to evaluate teachers and whether to give good ones a bigger paycheck.

Forty percent of a teacher’s score is based on observation by the principal, 30 percent on students’ standardized test scores and the rest on student, colleague and family feedback, as well as the school’s overall test scores.

Teachers are ranked as emerging, effective, highly effective or master. Bonuses range from $500 to $3,000.

Waivers won’t require access to good teachers

No Child Left Behind waivers will be renewed with no rule to ensure low-income and minority students get equal access to effective teachers, reports Politics K-12.

Guidelines released in August required states to use teacher-evaluation data, starting in October, 2015, to see that “poor and minority students are not taught by ineffective teachers at a higher rate than their peers,” writes Michele McNeil. The Education Department will drop that rule.

Civil rights groups have fought for better teachers in high-poverty schools. Teachers’ unions have opposed the use of evaluation data to rate teachers.

The timing is bad, writes Stephen Sawchuk on Teacher Beat. Two recent students show that “disadvantaged students tend to get weaker instruction and also that it’s really difficult to encourage the best teachers to transfer to low-performing schools.”

The Education Department claims it will deal with the issue next year by putting “teeth” into NCLB. But the law deals only with “inexperienced, unqualified or out-of-field teachers,” notes Sawchuk. “The effectiveness language came later and only applied to stimulus funds.”

Study: Top teachers perform well after transfer

Top elementary teachers who transferred to low-performing schools under a bonus program boosted their students’ learning significantly,” reports Ed Week’s Stephen Sawchuk.  Middle school teachers who transferred did not produce gains, according to a Mathematica study of the federally financed Talent Transfer Initiative.

Most highly effective teachers turned down the transfers, notes Sawchuck.

 The top 20 percent of teachers in each district were identified using each district’s own “value added” measure.  They were offered a $20,000 bonus to switch, paid out over a two-year period. (Effective teachers already in those schools got $10,000).

Of 1,500 eligible teachers, only 81 decided to transfer to qualify for bonuses.

Tranferring teachers were more likely than colleagues to stay at their new schools during the two years when bonuses were paid. After that, they left at the same rate as other teachers.

Students in high-poverty, low-performing schools are much less likely to be taught by experienced and highly effective teachers, say advocates. But it’s not clear whether a teacher who’s effective with easy-to-teach students will be effective with high-risk students.

A different study last year also found teacher effectiveness is transferable, writes Sawchuk.

Teacher evaluation is a-changin’

Most states are using student achievement to evaluate teachers, according to Connect the Dots from the National Council on Teacher Quality. “What is occurring more slowly are the policy changes that will connect the rich performance data from these systems to tenure decisions, professional development, compensation, teacher preparation, and consequences for ineffectiveness.”

NCTQ looks at teacher evaluation policies across the 50 states and Washington D.C. Louisiana is “connecting the most dots,” followed closely by Florida and Tennessee, NCTQ concludes. Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Rhode Island and DCPS are also ahead of the curve.

Teacher ratings: Ineffective

Syracuse has no highly effective elementary or middle school teachers under the district’s new rating system, notes Aaron Pallas on the Hechinger Report.

Just two percent of Syracuse teachers were rated highly effective, and an additional 58 percent were deemed effective. Seven percent were classified as ineffective, and 33 percent as developing, categories that suggest low levels of teaching performance, the need for teacher improvement plans, and the threat of eventual dismissal.

On average, Syracuse teachers were rated effective on the state’s metric for student growth. They were rated effective or highly effective by the principals and peers who observed their teaching.  But  the school-wide measures of student achievement used by the district lowered scores significantly.

That’s because teachers had to raise test scores from 2012 to 2013 to be rated effective. But the 2013 tests, aligned with Common Core standards, was much harder. Scores went down in Syracuse — and everywhere else in the state. That was inevitable.

I wonder how State Commissioner John King, Jr. would like it if his performance evaluation were based on the same criteria applied to teachers in Syracuse. The percentage-point increase in students statewide scoring at level 3 and 4 in ELA from 2012 to 2013? Well, that actually fell from 55 percent to 31 percent. The Commissioner gets a zero. The percentage-point increase in students scoring at level 3 and 4 in math? That fell from 65 percent to 31 percent. The Commissioner gets a zero. The percentage-point decrease in students statewide scoring at level 1 in ELA from 2012 to 2013? That actually increased from 10 percent to 32 percent. The Commissioner gets a zero. And the percentage-point decrease in students scoring at level 1 in math? That rose from eight percent to 33 percent. The Commissioner gets a zero.

Commissioner King is ineffective — by unfair criteria — concludes Pallas.

Study: States lack data on principals

A good school requires a good principal, nearly everyone agrees. But most states collect little or no information about how their principals are prepared, licensed, supported and evaluated, concludes Operating in the Dark, an analysis by the Dallas-based George W. Bush Institute.

“While 47 states reported they have adopted standards for principal effectiveness . . . just 17 states include learning outcomes when evaluating principal-preparation programs,” notes Ed Week. “Only six states—Connecticut, Georgia, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Washington—use some evidence of effectiveness in renewing principals’ licenses.”Rhode Island  creating comprehensive systems to follow principals from their training programs through licensing, placement, and school leadership.

Gates: Mix measures to evaluate teachers

Combining growth in students’ test scores, student feedback and classroom observations produces accurate information on teacher effectiveness, according to Gates Foundation research.

A composite measure on teacher effectiveness drawing on all three of those measures, and tested through a random-assignment experiment, predicted fairly accurately how much high-performing teachers would successfully boost their students’ standardized-test scores, concludes the series of new papers, part of the massive Measures of Effective Teaching study launched three years ago.

No more than half of a teacher’s evaluation should be on growth in student achievement, researchers concluded.  In addition, teachers’ classroom performance should be observed by more than one person.

Of course, the controversy on how to evaluate teachers — and what to do with the information — is not over.

The ever-increasing federal role in education makes no sense, writes Marc Tucker, who complains that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is forcing states to evaluate teachers based on student performance in order to get No Child Left Behind waivers.  Most researchers don’t think value-added measures of teacher performance are reliable, writes Tucker.

The study is a “political document and not a research document,” Jay Greene tells the Wall Street Journal.  Classroom observations aren’t a strong predictor of student performance says Greene, a professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas. “But the Gates Foundation knows that teachers and others are resistant to a system that is based too heavily on student test scores, so they combined them with other measures to find something that was more agreeable to them,” he said.

LA study: New teachers get worst students

In Los Angeles Unified, new teachers get the weakest students, reports a six-year study by the Strategic Data Project.

The study also found “significant disparities in effectiveness among the district’s elementary and middle school teachers, as measured by students’ standardized test scores,” notes EdSource Today.

Researchers found that the difference between a math teacher in the 75th percentile – those whose students performed better than three quarters of other students – and a teacher in the 25th percentile was the roughly equivalent benefit to a student of having eight additional months of instruction in a calendar year (technically one quarter of a standard deviation).

New teachers hired through Teach for America and the district’s Career Ladder program that helps aides become teachers were more effective in math than other novice teachers by two months for TFA and one month for former aides. However, most TFA teachers leave after two years, while Career Ladder teachers usually stay for the long haul.

Forty-five percent of laid-off teachers ranked in the top two quartiles in effectiveness, the study found. All layoffs are based on seniority.

Of the teachers who were laid off, 45 percent were in the top two quartiles of effective teachers in Los Angeles Unified. Source: SDP Human Capital Diagnostic in the Los Angeles Unified. (Click to enlarge.)
Los Angeles teachers with advanced academic degrees earn more, but are no more effective, the study found. However, “teachers with a National Board Certification outperform other teachers, by roughly two months of additional math instruction and one month of additional ELA instruction over a year.”  Most board-certified teachers in Los Angeles work in high-performing schools.

How federal rules block innovation

Federal education funding is supporting the status quo, argues a new Center on Reinventing Public Education report, Federal Barriers to Innovation. Authors Raegen Miller and Robin Lake focus on Title I funding for disadvantaged students and  IDEA funding for disabled students.

 The Title I comparability loop hole, for instance, prevents districts from adopting promising new technology–based school models. If a district has a high-poverty school staffed with inexperienced, lower-paid teachers, and an affluent school of the same size staffed with the same number of more experienced, higher-paid teachers, those schools are considered to have comparable staffing levels. The loophole masks the true educational costs of schools, reinforces a traditional compensation system that favors tenure and post-graduate education, and prevents districts from differentiating pay in strategic ways.

IDEA’s maintenance of effort requirement forces districts to keep spending money “without regard for its efficiency or effectiveness.” That blocks innovative teaching methods and technologies.

Instead, IDEA needs a “challenge waiver” system, Miller and Lake write.

Districts could be granted waivers for the 100 percent spending threshold on special education and related services “provided they furnish a coherent, strategic special education plan documenting the rationale for a lower threshold.” Such a system would encourage more data-driven decision-making, while random audits would ensure fidelity of implementation.

In addition, they call for “redirecting Title II funds (an amalgam of funding streams supporting ineffectual professional development and class-size reduction programs)” toward effective new instructional technologies.