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.

Study links TFA selection criteria to gains

Teach for America teachers rated high on academic achievement, leadership and perseverance are more effective math teachers in grades three through eight, concludes a new study (pdf) by Will Dobbie of Harvard. Leadership and belief in TFA goals was linked to English gains, but less clearly. Teacher Beat reports:

TFA selects its recruits through a detailed selection process that uses a mix of scored assessments, including essays, a group activity, recommendations, and a sample teaching lesson.

The qualities it measures include: achievement (academic GPA or work performance), leadership (performance in leadership role), perseverance (ability to work through obstacles), critical thinking (outlining solutions to problems methodically), organization (attention to deadlines and clarity of instruction), motivational ability (ability to keep students on task), respect (attitudes toward low-income individuals), and fit (whether the candidate believes TFA’s goals are attainable).

Critical thinking, organizational ability, motivation, and respect for others were not linked to classroom effectiveness.  However, students in third through fifth grade taught by a teacher who scored higher on the respect measure were less likely to have a behavior infraction.


Investing in (proven) innovation

How innovative is the Education Department’s $650 million Investing in Innovation program? By limiting grants to ideas with evidence of success, i3 tilted toward the “usual suspects,” concludes a report by Bellwether Education Partners for the Gates Foundation.  Grant winners included Teach for America, KIPP and Reading Recovery.

The idea was to invest in “innovation that works”  and that can be scaled up — not cutting-edge ideas — notes Education Week.

. . .  the researchers give the department credit for encouraging partnerships between the philanthropic sector and K-12 public education by requiring winners to secure matching dollars and establishing an online registry where foundations and education entrepreneurs could find each other.

And, researchers said, the department took a bold and significant step in requiring varying levels of evidence for each type of innovation grant, acknowledging that some ideas and innovations might be worthy of government investment but have far less research to back them up. This evidence framework was “a giant leap forward” and “by far the most significant innovation that i3 brought to the table,” the researchers said.

But this rigorous evidence framework came at a cost, since it favored ideas that had been around long enough, and had enough financial backing, to make evaluations possible. The result, the researchers said, was a “pool of applicants and grantees made up of existing organizations that had already addressed K-12 schooling in some way.”

“It did not find innovative programs because it was not set up to find them,” Rick Hess told Ed Week. “They chose to write rules which required established evidence of effectiveness. That’s perfectly reasonable. You’re giving away $650 million in tax dollars.”

The second round of grants — $150 million this time — will be announced next week.

Laying off the least effective teachers

Seniority determines teacner layoffs in most school districts. Laying off the least-effective teachers, instead of the newest hires, would let districts retain more and better teachers for the same budgetary savings, write University of Washington researchers Dan Goldhaber and Roddy Theobald  in Education Next.

 Only 16 percent of Washington state teachers who received lay-off notices were in the least-effective category, the study concluded, comparing teachers for whom value-added scores could be generated.  Because the least-effective teachers are more senior and therefore earn higher pay, laying off 132 would save as much money as laying off 145 junior teachers.   

Furthermore, the least-effective group was 20 percent of a standard deviation lower in students’ math and reading achieve­ment then the least-senior group.

The magnitude of the difference is strik­ing, roughly equivalent to having a teacher who is at the 16th percentile of effectiveness rather than at the 50th percentile. This difference corresponds to roughly 2.5 to 3.5 months of student learning.

Black students are far more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers who are the first to be laid off, the study found.  Effectiveness-based layoffs spread the disruption more evenly.

Some districts protect teachers in high-need specialties: Math and science teachers are less vulnerable to layoffs than P.E. and health teachers, for example. But in 70 percent of the nation’ s largest school districts, seniority alone determines the order of layoffs, the study concluded.

 That’s just crazy.

Colleges look for new revenues

Necessity is the mother of invention: Hit by funding cuts, community colleges are trying to boost revenues by renting facilities to businesses, charging more for specialty courses and other ideas.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Data collection is a challenge as community colleges pilot a new measure of effectiveness that goes beyond graduation rates.