It’s the best and worst time to teach

It is the best of times — and the worst of times — to be a teacher, writes Justin Reich on Education Week‘s EdTech Researcher.

In his seventh-grade U.S. History class, students had a textbook and a primary source reader with 20 documents, Reich writes.

Today, a history teacher can choose from the millions of documents archived online by thousands of libraries and archives around the world, including not just texts but images, audio recordings, film clips, and ephemera.

Students can create “multimedia performances of their understanding” and “share their work with peers and audiences around the world.”

It has never been easier for educators to connect with one another, to share best practices, to see best practices from around the country or around the globe, and to connect across schools with teachers who share our subjects, or our interests, or our peculiar circumstances. Never before has the fraternity of teachers been more connected.

Yet teacher “morale is at a 20 year nadir”  as “narrow content standards and high-stakes testing pushes ever more teachers towards an ever narrower, test-focused curriculum,” Reich writes.

Audrey Watters’ annual review of trends in education technology lamented that “technology — like schooling — is something we do TO kids.”

“So, we face a moment where technology dramatically widens the scope of educational feasibility while policy dramatically narrows the scope of classroom possibility,” concludes Reich.

Why do teachers quit? Bad principals

Why Do So Many Teachers Quit Their Jobs? Because They Hate Their Bosses Writing in The Atlantic, John Tierney summarizes research on why new teachers quit.

. . . the most important factor influencing commitment was the beginning teacher’s perception of how well the school principal worked with the teaching staff as a whole. This was a stronger factor than the adequacy of resources, the extent of a teacher’s administrative duties, the manageability of his or her workload, or the frequency of professional-development opportunities.

A third of teachers in their first two years change schools or quit teaching altogether, Tierney writes.  Turnover is higher in urban schools with low-income, hard-to-teach students.

The new research affirms much of what earlier studies have found. For example, an earlier (2003) multiyear study of 50 teachers in Massachusetts found that teachers who left the profession often “described principals who were arbitrary, abusive, or neglectful.”

It’s not just new teachers, Tierney adds. Job satisfaction for all teachers depends on the principal’s managerial style.

Teacher turnover hurts achievement

Teacher turnover hurts student achievement, concludes a study presented at a Center for Longitudinal Data in Education Research conference, reports Teacher Beat.

Less-effective teachers are more likely to leave troubled schools, an earlier analysis found. But any benefits from losing the least-effective teachers are outweighed by having a staff in constant flux, the new research suggests.

• For each analysis, students taught by teachers in the same grade-level team in the same school did worse in years where turnover rates were higher, compared with years in which there was less teacher turnover.

• An increase in teacher turnover by 1 standard deviation corresponded with a decrease in math achievement of 2 percent of a standard deviation; students in grade levels with 100 percent turnover were especially affected, with lower test scores by anywhere from 6 percent to 10 percent of a standard deviation based on the content area.

The turnover effect was greater in schools with more low-achieving and black students, the study found.

‘Creative … motivating’ and fired

Sarah Wysocki struggled in her first year of teaching fifth-grade at a Washington D.C. middle school, but she earned excellent evaluations in her second year. Then she was fired for low value-added scores, reports the Washington Post.

A majority of her students took the fourth-grade test at a feeder school suspected of cheating. Some who’d tested as “advanced” could barely read when they started fifth grade, she said.  When their scores slipped, her value-added score took the hit. With a low score from her first year of teaching, Wysocki was out.

In classroom observations in her second year, Wysocki’s teaching won praise.

“It is a pleasure to visit a classroom in which the elements of sound teaching, motivated students and a positive learning environment are so effectively combined,” Assistant Principal Kennard Branch wrote in her May 2011 evaluation.

Branch asked her to share her ideas with her colleagues. He also praised her ability to engage parents.

After Wysocki was fired, Principal Andre Samuels wrote a glowing recommendation describing her as  “enthusiastic, creative, visionary, flexible, motivating and encouraging.” She was hired immediately by a Fairfax,  Virginia elementary school, where she’s again teaching fifth grade.

Most teachers with low value-added scores also score poorly on classroom observations, says an architect of D.C.’s system for teacher evaluation. But there doesn’t seem to be a way to apply common sense when the system goes wrong.

After years of very low performance, D.C. needs to stress reading and math scores in teacher evaluations, Rick Hess writes.

In response to MetLife’s survey, which found teachers’ satisfaction has declined, he wonders who is unhappy. “If a teacher is lousy or doing lousy work, they should have lousy morale. Hopefully it’ll encourage them to leave sooner.”