Life’s a carnival

Is it really that time of year again? asks Carol at Bellringers. Well, it’s time for the end-of-summer Education Buzz carnival.

The National Council on Teacher Quality and U.S. News & World Report are reviewing teacher preparation programs around the country and want to hear from teachers (even veteran teachers) about what they think about the training they received. Go here to take it and get a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

Let’s Do Math also has a contest, but you have to solve a Fibonacci puzzle to win, Carol warns.

Teaching My Baby to Read offers practical, affordable advice for parents with a child who’s struggling in school.

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Janice Campell’s Taking Time for Things That Matter.

Merit pay and 'Bad Teacher'

To balance the state budget, Texas cut 90 percent of funding for the nation’s largest merit pay program, reports the Dallas Morning News.

A Texas Education Agency study of the merit-pay program found slightly increased test scores at participating schools and higher teacher retention rates.

Some districts spread out the bonus money to most teachers, cutting the average payment to $1,361. Other districts gave bonuses to teachers at select schools; the average payment was $3,344. “Generally, larger bonuses produced better test scores and teacher retention,” notes the Morning News.

The movie Bad Teacher, which is getting mixed or negative reviews, features a gold-digging, booze-swilling bimbo who becomes a middle-school teacher (not sure how) in hopes of making enough money for breast implants to attract a wealthy substitute teacher. She stops showing movies in class and tries to teach when she learns of a bonus for high test scores. Not credible, points out the National Council on Teacher Quality.

We must point out that such incentives don’t exist in Chicago, where the film is based. In fact, of the 100 largest school districts in the country, according to our TR3 database, only six offer bonuses on the basis of performance to individual teachers that would be substantial enough to cover the average cost of breast augmentation surgery — around $3,800.

In order for performance pay to make a substantial impact on teacher recruitment and retention, the incentives have to be significant enough to make a real impact in teachers’ lives. Bad Teachers unquestioned premise is more anecdotal evidence that the public, inside and out, overestimates the true role of performance pay in schools today.
Also, middle school is not a great place to find a wealthy husband.

NCTQ: LA schools waste money

Los Angeles public schools waste $500 million a year to pay teachers for completing graduate courses that don’t improve teaching, concludes a report by the National Council on Teacher Quality. The money would be better spent paying more to teachers who deliver results, such as higher test scores, or to attract proven talent to the system, NCTQ’s Kate Walsh told the Board of Education at last week’s meeting, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Nearly all school districts use a pay scale that rewards teachers for years of experience and for additional graduate credits earned. Experience makes a difference in the first years of teaching; researchers have found no link between graduate courses or master’s degrees and teaching effectiveness.

Other findings included:

• Only a third of Los Angeles teachers graduated from a school ranked as either “most” or “more” selective.

• Principals don’t take advantage of flexibility and authority they already have in hiring and evaluating teachers.

Teachers are observed by only their principal and only once every other year. That’s not enough, the “road map” concluded.

In addition, the online teacher evaluation system requires principals to provide documentation if they check “needs improvement” for three or more of 27 indicators. There’s no need to document a satisfactory rating. Administrators may decide a negative rating ” is not worth the effort,” concluded the report, which called for “a high burden of evidence and feedback for every rating — both negative and affirmative.”

The report also criticized teacher assignment policies, saying principals are forced to hire teachers who may not be a good fit and lay off teachers based on seniority rather than performance.

In addition, teachers aren’t required to be on campus for the eight-hour work day, making it hard to schedule collaboration and joint planning.

Teaching teachers: How colleges are doing

How well are teachers’ colleges teaching our teachers? Most first-year teachers were satisfied with their training, concludes Public Agenda’s Lessons Learned survey. Overall 8 in 10 felt they were prepared for their first classroom (42 percent said “very prepared).

However, only 39 percent said their training in dealing with diverse classrooms helped them “a lot” once they were in their own classroom.

New middle and high school teachers said their training put too much stress on theory and not enough on the practical demands of the classroom.

Teachers, especially at the high school level, were more critical of the support they got — or didn’t get — when they started teaching.

Just a quarter of new high school teachers (26 percent) said they get excellent advice on lesson plans and teaching techniques, compared to 39 percent of elementary school teachers who said the same.

There is also a 10-point difference on the advice they said they got about handling unmotivated students: 31 percent of high school teachers say they get excellent advice, compared to 41 percent of grade school teachers.

U.S. News and World Report and the National Council on Teacher Quality plan to rate teachers colleges. The education schools aren’t pleased.

Better teachers

The Race to the Top competition pushed states to change education policies in 2010, concludes the National Council on Teacher Quality in its State Teacher Policy Yearbook. Twenty-one states now require annual evaluations of all teachers, up from 15 in 2009. Fourteen states now hold teacher preparation programs accountable for their graduates’ students performance, up from only one the year before.

However, “most states’ evaluation, tenure and dismissal policies remain disconnected from classroom effectiveness,” NCTQ concludes. In addition, “rather than working to expand the teacher pipeline, many states create obstacles in their alternate routes to certification.”

“Simply put, the nation’s thousands of teacher preparation programs are good at churning out teachers but far less successful at ensuring that those teachers meet the needs of public schools and students,” say the authors.  

The brief proposes creating a federal framework for evaluating teacher preparation programs, using “outcomes-based indicators of quality,” and establishing competitive grants to encourage states and institutions to change “how, and how rigorously, they monitor, evaluate, and improve their teacher preparation programs.”  Streamlining financial aid should include  “eliminating TEACH Grants, an ineffective pre-service grant program, and using those resources to expand debt forgiveness benefits for high-quality classroom teachers.”

Education Week has several commentaries on the future of teaching.

Accountability for education schools

How well are ed schools preparing tomorrow’s teachers? The National Center on Teacher Quality will evaluate the quality of the nation’s 1,400 education schools.

. . . very little is known about the quality of teacher preparation programs—their selectivity, the content and pedagogical knowledge that they demand that their teacher candidates master, or how well they prepare candidates for the rigors of the classroom.

The review will be based on 17 standards “based on the highest caliber research on education and best practices of states and countries with excellent education systems” and vetted by national experts in a variety of fields.

NCTQ field-tested the methodology in analyzing education schools in Texas and Illinois.

U.S. News & World Report will publish the review annually, starting in the fall of 2012.

Alternative routes to teaching will be included only if they’re housed at education schools, writes Teacher Beat. That will exclude Teach for America and district-created teacher-prep programs.

Selling the idea to education deans may be difficult, Teacher Beat notes.

NCTQ’s Texas review was criticized by deans there even before the results came out.

In Texas, deans objected to the fact that the ratings were based on reviews of syllabuses and materials culled from websites rather than in-depth visits to schools. They argued that important topics might not be listed on such outlines. The forthcoming reviews are going to be based on a similar methodology, so anticipate more back-and-forth in this vein. (In fairness to NCTQ, ed. schools grumbled in the past about accreditation visits, too.)

NCTQ’s review will look at how well would-be teachers learn classroom-management skills, understand assessment and demonstrate expertise in their content area, among other things. In addition, programs will be judged on how well student teaching experiences are organized and whether the program collects data on graduates’ performance in the classroom.

Barnett Berry writes about building the 21st-century teaching profession in Ed Week.