Smarter teachers, smarter students

Should we select teacher candidates for their smarts? asks the National Council on Teacher Quality Bulletin. If so, “can we raise the bar without endangering equitable access to strong teachers or limiting diversity?”

The cognitive skills of a nation’s teachers is linked to their students’ PISA performance, conclude Eric Hanushek and two Germany-based researchers. The study tried to control for “parental cognitive skills, a country’s educational culture, differences in student aptitude” and other factors. 

It assumed places with higher public-sector salaries would draw more academically talented people to teaching. If that’s valid, then “raising average teacher cognitive skills by a standard deviation likely raises student performance in math by 20 percent of a standard deviation in math and 10 percent in reading.”

Another study suggests it’s possible to get more talented teachers into the classroom. Teachers’ academic aptitude has been rising in New York over the past 25 years, concludes a study by Hamilton Lankford and others.

In the late 1990’s, almost a third of New York’s newly certified teachers were drawn from the bottom-third of the SAT scale. Beginning in 1998, the state tightened requirements on teacher preparation programs, eliminated temporary teaching licenses (which tended to be awarded to low-scoring individuals), and allowed selective alternative routes (e.g., Teach For America and TNTP) to begin operating. By 2010, more teachers were being drawn from the top-third of the SAT distribution than any other group.

The sharpest rise came in SAT scores of new teachers at the most disadvantaged schools, especially in New York City.

Average SAT scores rose more for new black and Latino teachers than for whites and Asian-Americans. Yet the state’s teaching force become more diverse.

What teachers earn over time

How much do teachers make? Don’t just look at starting and peak salaries, advises Smart Money, a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. What counts is how quickly teachers climb the salary ladder. For example, Boston teachers take seven years to reach $75,000 compared to 30 years in Wichita.

The report analyzes 2013-2014 teacher salary schedules in 113 mostly large school districts employing about 20 percent of the nation’s public school teachers.

The top five districts on lifetime earnings include Pittsburgh and the District of Columbia, for highly effective teachers in those two districts, as well as all teachers in Columbus (OH), Atlanta and Jefferson County (KY), which don’t have performance pay.

Adjusting for a high cost of living depressed pay in New York City, Hawaii, San Francisco, Newark and Oakland. Columbus (OH) pays teachers the most when cost of living is factored in.

The maximum salary a teacher can earn over a 30-year career ranges from $52,325 in Oklahoma City to $106,540 for an exemplary teacher in the District of Columbia.

Starting and ending salaries can be highly misleading. For example, Rochester posts relatively high starting and ending salaries ($42,917 and $120,582 respectively), but, over a 30-year career, teachers accrue $1.92 million in lifetime earnings. Conversely, Milwaukee teachers start at $41,070 but accrue $2.04 million over their careers because it only takes 15 years to get to their lower max salary of $78,143.

. . .  All performance pay systems are not created equal. Some districts like D.C. and Pittsburgh make it possible for exemplary teachers to earn the maximum pay in relatively short order, while others like Jefferson Parish and Caddo Parish in Louisiana do not.

There’s an interactive map of the 113 districts here.

How to make teaching an elite profession

Seven percent of teacher training programs receive a top ranking in National Council on Teacher Quality’s Teacher Prep Review. “With only 1 in 15 programs providing first-year teachers with solid preparation, it is clear we, as a nation, have a long way to go if we are going to do right by teachers as well as their students,” said Kate Walsh, NCTQ’s president.

Among the top teacher training programs in the country — according to NCTQ — is Utah’s Western Governors University , which is online and competency based.

NCTQ recommends setting higher standards for teacher candidates, making it tougher to be recommended for licensure and holding teacher training programs accountable for the effectiveness of their graduates.

American schools need better teachers, so let’s make it harder to become one, argues Amanda Ripley in Slate. The “world’s smartest countries” treat teacher selection and preparation “the way we treat the training of surgeons and pilots,” she writes. Some U.S. states are raising standards for teacher education programs.

Rhode Island, which once had one of the nation’s lowest entry-bars for teachers, is leading the way. The state has already agreed to require its education colleges to admit classes of students with a mean SAT, ACT, or GRE score in the top one-half of the national distribution by 2016. By 2020, the average score must be in the top one-third of the national range, which would put Rhode Island in line with education superpowers like Finland and Singapore.

Sonja Stenfors, 23, is a teacher-in-training from Finland, worked as a classroom aide for a year to raise her odds of getting into a teacher-training program, writes Ripley. Only 10 percent of applicants are accepted.

After three years at a Finnish university, Stenfors is studying at the University of Missouri–Kansas City.  “Here it’s not cool to study to be a teacher,” she wrote in Finnish on her blog. “They perceive a person who is studying to be a teacher as a little dumber.”

The University of Missouri–Kansas City admits two-thirds of those who apply, writes Ripley. There is no minimum SAT or ACT score. Students have to have a B average, sit for an interview, and pass an online test of basic academic skills.

They do two semesters of student teaching, compared to Senfors’ four semesters in Finland, and receive “less rigorous, hands-on classroom coaching from experienced teachers.”

NCTQ: States get C- for teacher policies

The National Council on Teacher Quality has released its 2013 State Teacher Policy Yearbook. The national average was a C-, up from D+ in 2011 and D in 2009.

Florida earned the highest overall teacher policy grade in the nation, a B+. Louisiana, Rhode Island and Tennessee earned Bs, and 10 other states earned B-.  . . . Montana has consistently earned an F in the Yearbook for its record of inaction. Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming earned Ds or lower.

Here’s NCTQ’s new state policy web site.

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.

Ed major is easy, students tweet

Education schools aren’t trying to draw high achievers to teaching, complains the National Council on Teacher Quality’s PDQ blog. Admissions requirements are low and assignments are undemanding. (See page 162 to 164.)

Tweets on #edmajor show education majors bragging about how easy their classes are.

By contrast, students on #mathmajor#sciencemajor and #nursingmajor frequently tweet about how hard they work and how much they enjoy solving difficult problems.

NCTQ: Most teacher prep is mediocre


Ohio State was the top-rated teacher education program in the country.

University teacher education is an “industry of mediocrity,” concludes the National Council on Teacher Quality’s Teacher Prep Review 2013.  The “vast majority of the 1,430 education programs that prepare the nation’s K-12 teachers” churn out “first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity.”

Less than 10 percent of rated programs earned 3 out of 4 stars. Only four programs — all at the secondary level — earned 4. Ohio State, which earned 3½ stars for preparing elementary teachers and 4 stars for secondary teachers, was the top-ranked program, followed by Lipscomb and Vanderbilt in Tennessee and Furman University in South Carolina.

* Just over a quarter of programs restrict admissions to students in the top half of their class, compared with the highest-performing countries, which limit entry to the top third.

* Fewer than one in nine elementary programs and just over one-third of high school programs are preparing candidates in content at the level necessary to teach the new Common Core State Standards now being implemented in classrooms in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

* Three out of four elementary teacher preparation programs still are not teaching the methods of reading instruction that could substantially lower the number of children who never become proficient readers, from 30 percent to under 10 percent. Instead, the teacher candidate is all too often told to develop his or her “own unique approach” to teaching reading.

* Just 7 percent of programs ensure that their student teachers will have uniformly strong experiences, such as only allowing them to be placed in classrooms taught by teachers who are themselves effective, not just willing volunteers.

While 239,000 teachers are trained each year, only 98,000 are hired, the report finds. Admitting the marginally qualified is profitable for ed schools, which often serve as cash cows for their universities, but not for their students.

“You just have to have a pulse and you can get into some of these education schools,” said Michael Petrilli, a vice president at the conservative-leaning Fordham Institute and a former official in the Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement. “If policymakers took this report seriously, they’d be shutting down hundreds of programs.”

The ratings are very controversial, notes the Washington Post. Some education schools refused to cooperate with NCTQ. “Take it with a salt shaker full of salt,” said Linda Darling Hammond, an expert on teacher education at Stanford University.

NCTQ: Teacher prep earns D+

Teacher preparation policies earned a D+ in 2012, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality’s State Teacher Policy Yearbook. That’s up from a D in 2011.

The highest grade — B- — went to Alabama, Florida, Indiana and Tennessee. Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont made the most progress. Three states – Alaska, Montana and Wyoming – received failing grades.

Only a third of undergraduate teacher preparation programs are sufficiently selective, NCTQ finds. The majority “fail to ensure that candidates come from the top half of the college-going population.” Only 24 states require teacher preparation programs to use a basic skills test to screen applicants.

Standards are low for elementary teachers:

Teaching children to read is among an elementary teacher’s most important responsibilities, yet only 10 states appropriately assess teacher proficiency in effective reading instruction. And only 11 states adequately test new elementary teachers’ knowledge of mathematics.

Even though all but four states require some subject matter tests for elementary teacher licensing, the passing scores are extremely low. Every state (for which NCTQ has data) except Massachusetts sets the passing score for elementary teacher licensing tests below the average score for all test takers (50th percentile), and most states set passing rates at an exceedingly low level.

Only eight states– Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas – use student achievement data to hold teacher preparation programs accountable for the effectiveness of the teachers they graduate.

Too many (would-be) elementary teachers

State Output

Some states produce enough elementary teachers to fill anticipated openings, but others produce twice as many as needed—or more.

Supply Demand Percent Difference
Colorado 1,169 1,099 106%
Connecticut 701 600 117
Delaware 373 122 306
Illinois 9,982 1,073 930
Kentucky 1,275 730 175
Louisiana 1,033 650 159
Maryland 1,011 723 140
Massachusetts 1,175 1,051 112
Michigan 2,903 1,227 236
Minnesota 1,179 709 166
Mississippi 751 660 114
New York 6,498 2,800 232
Pennsylvania 6,048 1,420 426
Tennessee 1,970 1,380 143

In many states, colleges are churning out too many would-be elementary teachers, reports Education Week.

New York and Michigan prepared twice as many elementary teachers as needed in 2011-12. Pennsylvania turned out four new graduates for every job opening. Illinois issued nine new elementary-teacher certificates in 2009 for every one first-time teacher hired in 2010.

By contrast, Colorado and Michigan produce just enough new elementary teachers to meet demand. (That’s assuming nobody moves from Illinois and Pennsylvania.)

Colleges should be more selective about admitting teacher candidates and train them more intensively, argues the National Council on Teacher Quality.

“We could improve, enhance, and extend the quality of teacher preparation, and therefore produce better-qualified new teacher graduates, but probably fewer in number,” agrees Arthur E. Wise, former president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

Prospective elementary teachers have lower academic qualifications than other college graduates, concludes a 2007 Educational Testing Service report. (Secondary teachers have higher-than-average test scores.)

“We could raise the bar and get teachers with higher aptitudes in classrooms and still have plenty of elementary teachers,” (NCTQ’s Arthur) McKee said.

Teaching teachers to drive data

“Data-driven” schools need teachers who know how to use information on students’ learning to improve teaching, writes June Kronholz on Ed Next. Some schools hire Achievement Network (ANet) to teach teachers how to use data.

During the data meeting, teachers pored over a form called an “item analysis template”—downloaded from the ANet web site—that forced them to think through the test questions that had given their kids the most grief. “What were the misconceptions” that led so many students to choose the wrong answer, the form asked them to consider. What groups of students missed the answer? What did students need to know to get it right?

Next, they worked through a “reteach action plan,” also downloaded from ANet. How was the lesson taught originally, the form asked. How and when would it be retaught, and to whom—the whole class, a small group, individual children?

After reteaching, teachers give a short quiz to see if the new lesson was effective. Then they discuss the results.

Schools in ANet’s network model their teaching practices to other schools, asking teachers, principals and instructional coaches “to help one another figure out how to reteach a troublesome lesson,” Kronholz writes.

There’s lots of detail in the story on how this works.

Few teacher education programs prepare future teachers to use assessments to improve instruction, concludes the National Council on Teacher Quality in a new report. Only three percent of programs surveyed adequately prepare future teachers to use performance data to improve instruction, the report concluded. Another 24 percent were rated “partially adequate.”  One program out of 180 “prepares candidates to work collaboratively to dissect, describe, and display data that emerge from both in-class and standardized assessments.”