Good principals are great

Good principals are very, very good for teachers and students, concludes a study in Education Next. “For student outcomes, greater attention to the selection and retention of high-quality principals would have a very high payoff,” write Gregory F. Branch, Eric A. Hanushek and Steven G. Rivkin.

. . . highly effective principals raise the achievement of a typical student in their schools by between two and seven months of learning in a single school year; ineffective principals lower achievement by the same amount. These impacts are somewhat smaller than those associated with having a highly effective teacher. But teachers have a direct impact on only those students in their classroom; differences in principal quality affect all students in a given school.

Less-effective teachers are more likely to leave schools run by highly effective principals, the study found. “Good principals are likely to make more personnel changes in grade levels where students are under-performing.”

Unsuccessful principals aren’t weeded out, especially those teaching in high-poverty schools. Those who leave go to other schools.

The value-added analysis looked at “the extent to which math achievement in a school is higher or lower than would be expected based on the characteristics of students in that school, including their achievement in the prior year.”

Merit mandate = $1 bonus for top teachers

Some Michigan school districts think their best teachers are worth $1 more than their worst, reports Michigan Capitol Confidential.

That’s the amount the Davison Community Schools in Genessee County, and the Stephenson Area Public Schools in Menominee County, pay to be in compliance with the state’s merit pay law, which was put in place when Jennifer Granholm was governor. The Gladstone Area Public Schools in Delta County pays its top-notch teachers $3 more than the worst.

Job performance must be “a significant factor in determining compensation,” according to state law. In Davison and Stephenson schools, that means a $1 bonus for  “highly effective” teachers. Gladstone pays a $3 bonus to “highly effective” teachers, $2 to those rated “effective” and an extra $1 to any teacher who “meets goals.”

Eighty percent of Michigan districts are ignoring the merit pay law, estimates the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.  Teachers are paid based on years of experience and credits earned past a bachelor’s degree. There’s no monetary reward for teaching well.

. . .in the Troy School District in Oakland County, seven gym teachers made more money in 2011 than a biology teacher who was selected as a national teacher of the year.

A measure on the November ballot, Proposal 2, would end the merit pay mandate by letting government union contracts  overrule state laws.

A few districts have replaced the old salary scales with performance pay without spending more overall on salaries, says Michael Van Beek, education policy director at Mackinac.

When students grade teachers

When students evaluate their teachers, they’re remarkably good at identifying who’s effective and who’s not, writes Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic. Students evaluations have proved to be “more reliable than any other known measure of teacher performance—­including classroom observations and student test-score growth,”  researchers have found, Ripley writes.

Some 250,000 students participated in a Gates Foundation study of student evaluations, using a survey developed by Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson.

The responses did indeed help predict which classes would have the most test-score improvement at the end of the year. In math, for example, the teachers rated most highly by students delivered the equivalent of about six more months of learning than teachers with the lowest ratings. (By comparison, teachers who get a master’s degree—one of the few ways to earn a pay raise in most schools —delivered about one more month of learning per year than teachers without one.)

Students were better than trained adult observers in evaluating teacher effectiveness, probably because students spend a lot more time with each teacher. And there are more of them.

Five items were linked strongly with student learning:

1. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.

2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.

3. Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.

4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.

5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

Teachers were surprised that caring about students was less important than controlling the classroom and challenging students, Ripley writes.

At McKinley Technology High School in Washington D.C., the same students “gave different teachers wildly different reviews” on Control and Challenge.

For Control, which reflects how busy and well-behaved students are in a given classroom, teachers’ scores ranged from 16 to 90 percent favorable; for Challenge, the range stretched from 18 to 88 percent. Some teachers were clearly respected for their ability to explain complex material or keep students on task, while others seemed to be boring their students to death.

Memphis now counts student survey results as 5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation in the annual review; 35 percent is linked students’ test scores and 40 percent to classroom observations.

The use of student surveys is spreading to Georgia and Chicago — and possibly Pittsburgh — Ripley writes.

Study: Some ‘alternate’ teachers do well

Florida’s alternatively certified teachers have better qualifications but vary in classroom effectiveness, concludes a study in Education Research reported by Ed Week‘s Teacher Beat.

Georgia State researcher Tim R.Sass compared the growth in test scores by students taught by teachers certified by community colleges’ Education Preparation Institute (EPI) option, by district-run alt-cert and by the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE).  Then he added traditionally certified teachers.

Compared to graduates of Florida’s teacher colleges, alt-cert teachers “graduated on average from more competitive colleges, tended to pass the licensing tests on the first time, and had higher SAT scores.” They also had taken two additional science courses in college.

. . . The EPI completers tended to do worse than traditionally prepared teachers, or about 3 to 4 percent of a standard deviation lower. By contrast, the ABCTE teachers boosted math achievement on average by 6 to 11 percent of a standard deviation more than traditionally prepared teachers. They were only slightly better in reading, however.

District-certified teachers did about the same as traditionally trained teachers.

in a a 2009 study, ABCTE teachers performed worse in math, notes Teacher Beat, who adds that the sample sizes are small.

Movin’ and improvin’

Teacher-effectiveness data should be used to help teachers improve, not just to fire incompetents, argues Movin’ It and Improvin’ It! by Craig Jerald, an education policy consultant, on the the Center for American Progress site.

. . . districts are missing an opportunity to … help leverage their highest performers and help teachers with strong potential grow into solid contributors.

The  “movin’ it” strategy uses “selective recruitment, retention, and ‘deselection’ to attract and keep teachers with higher effectiveness while removing teachers with lower effectiveness.

In contrast, “improvin’ it” policies treat teachers’ effectiveness as a mutable trait that can be improved with time. When reformers talk about providing all teachers with useful feedback following classroom observations or using the results of evaluation to individualize professional development for teachers, they are referring to “improvin’ it” strategies. If enough teachers improved their effectiveness, then the accumulated gains would boost the average effectiveness in the workforce.

Smart districts will do both, Jerald argues.

Professional development rarely improves teaching effectiveness and student learning, research shows. “The nation’s school systems spend billions of dollars annually on wasteful and ineffective professional development,” Jerald writes. Yet some forms of training have shown “substantial improvements in teaching and learning” in the last two years.

The uses (and misuses) of value-added research

Value-added research, which uses “sophisticated statistical techniques to attempt to isolate a teacher’s effect on student test score growth,”  makes sense, writes Matt DiCarlo in a thoughtful analysis on Shanker Blog. What’s troubling is how the models are used.

For example, the most prominent conclusion of this body of evidence is that teachers are very important, that there’s a big difference between effective and ineffective teachers, and that whatever is responsible for all this variation is very difficult to measure (see hereherehere and here). These analyses use test scores not as judge and jury, but as a reasonable substitute for “real learning,” with which one might draw inferences about the overall distribution of “real teacher effects.”

And then there are all the peripheral contributions to understanding that this line of work has made, including (but not limited to):

The “research does not show is that it’s a good idea to use value-added and other growth model estimates as heavily-weighted components in teacher evaluations or other personnel-related systems.,” DiCarlo concludes.

As has been discussed before, there is a big difference between demonstrating that teachers matter overall – that their test-based effects vary widely, and in a manner that is not just random –and being able to accurately identify the “good” and “bad” performers at the level of individual teachers.

Most districts and states use value-added models poorly, concludes DiCarlo

Teach for America outperforms in Tennessee

Teach for America teachers in Memphis and Nashville outperformed both experienced and new teachers, according to a state report card on teacher training. Teachers trained at Nashville’s Lipscomb University also did well.

Nine teacher training programs, including Tennessee State University, University of Tennessee-Martin, Middle Tennessee State and the Memphis Teacher Residency were cited for failing to compete with the quality of new teachers from other programs.

Memphis Teacher Residency, which recruits college graduates from other careers, posted low scores for high school teachers but relatively high scores for teachers in grades four through eight.  

 

Best ed schools make a difference

Students’ progress can be linked to where their teachers trained, concludes a study of Washington state education schools Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington Center for Education Data & Research.

“Improving teacher training has the potential to greatly enhance the productivity of the teacher workforce,” Goldhaber wrote in the report.

Overall, only a small percentage of the differences in teacher effectiveness were linked to education schools, but the best programs were much better than the worst. The effects outweighed smaller class sizes or teacher experience. “Hiring a teacher from the best training program could be equivalent to shrinking a class by five to 10 students,” AP reports.

National Center on Teacher Quality is working with U.S. News and World Report to evaluate and rank all 1,400 education schools in the country. NCTQ’s Transparency Central lists all the letters from teacher preparation programs objecting to the review.

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education has urged members not to participate in the “fundamentally flawed” project, reports Teacher Beat.

(The AACTE letter)  also calls the review an “outrage,” a “cause for alarm,” and NCTQ’s tactics “unprofessional.”

If education schools refuse to cooperate, NCTQ will file Freedom of Information Act requests to see course syllabi and hire students collect and submit documents.

Credentials don’t predict teacher performance

Teacher certification, advanced degrees and years of experience have “little or no effect” on student performance, concludes a Manhattan Institute study. Marcus Winters and colleagues analyzed test scores for all test-taking Florida public elementary students over a four-year period. The study will be published in the peer-reviewed journal Economics of Education Review.

In making decisions on pay, promotion, and tenure, U.S. public schools today do not seriously consider measures of how well a teacher performs in the classroom. Instead of distinguishing between the observed performances of teachers, the current system differentiates teachers by the number of advanced degrees that they hold and their years of experience in the classroom.

Teachers in their first few years of teaching are less effective than experienced teachers, but the benefit of experience “appears to plateau after the third to fifth year.”

Upward of 97 percent of what makes one teacher more effective than another is unrelated to experience and credentials, the study concludes.

Ex-union head will run charter schools

After fighting charter schools in Los Angeles as head of the teachers’ union, A.J. Duffy plans to start charter schools that will make it harder for teachers to earn tenure, reports the Los Angeles Times.

And if a tenured teacher becomes ineffective, he wants to streamline dismissals. The process now in place can stretch out for several years, even with substantial evidence of gross misconduct. Some union leaders, notably Duffy, have defended this “due process” as a necessary protection against administrative abuses.

“I would make it 10 days if I could,” Duffy now says of the length of the dismissal process.

Duffy, 67, will be executive director of Apple Academy Charter Public Schools, which hopes to open one or more schools in south Los Angeles by the fall of 2012.

Caprice Young, who ran the California Charter Schools Association, will serve on Duffy’s board.  Young was president of the Los Angeles Unified school board till United Teachers of Los Angeles mounted a successful campaign to oust her in 2003.

A.J. Duffy and Caprice Young are collaborating on charter schools? Repent of your sins.

While opposing charter schools, Duffy tried to unionize them.

. . . he argued for charter school-like freedoms at traditional schools, running up against the L.A. Unified bureaucracy and, frequently, his own union’s reluctance to risk weakening contract protections.

Duffy’s Apple schools will be unionized, though UTLA will have to agree to his new systems for granting tenure and firing teachers.

Under his tenure model, teachers would undergo a three-year probationary period, with a review by the principal and an experienced mentor or “master teacher” after two years that would enable them to continue on to the third year or be let go.

After the third year, they would earn tenure for two years, after which they would have to be recertified. After each tenure period, they would earn an additional year of tenure before undergoing the next recertification.

Teacher dismissal would be decided by binding arbitration within a 10 to 20-day period after the principal and master teacher agree the teacher should be fired. Under the current system, firing a teacher can take years.

In a large, bureaucracy such as Los Angeles Unified, “it continues to be necessary for teachers to be overly protected, but I have always said that UTLA would be willing to give up certain traditional protections if they got in return academic autonomy,” Duffy told AP.

He hopes to hire union teachers from the Crescendo network, which lost its charter this spring after a cheating scandal.