Hiring, retaining talented teachers

Teachers reject quality-blind layoffs, reports The New Teacher Project, which advocates A Smarter Teacher Layoff System.

Fully 40 percent of the nation’s teachers (1.25 million) work in one of 14 states — Alaska, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin — where it’s currently illegal for schools to consider job performance in making layoff decisions. Ten of these states are facing budget deficits greater than 10 percent, meaning that layoffs are a real possibility.

Under quality-blind policies — sometimes called “last-in, first-out” — schools are mandated to lay off the least senior teachers first. This hurts students by depriving them of excellent teachers who are forced to leave simply because they have not taught as long as others.

Teachers want their job performance considered, according to a TNTP survey.

Putting talented teachers in every school will require a coordinated strategy concludes a new Carnegie report.

The report outlines a number of strategies for preparing teachers better. They include holding teaching colleges accountable for their graduates’ performance and encouraging them to implement urban residency programs and alternative certification processes; hiring top-level graduates; and offering incentives for such graduates to work in schools where they are needed most. The report also recommends supporting teachers and principals with ongoing, on-the-job professional development; using data to assess teacher effectiveness more accurately; and, based on comprehensive, performance-based evaluations, retaining only the best teachers.

“The least effective teachers and principals are all too often found in high-poverty, high-minority, and high-immigrant schools,” said report author Talia Milgrom-Elcott.

Why do we treat newer teachers so badly? asks Sara Mead.

A corps of change agents

Teach for America‘s former teachers have formed a powerful corps of education change agents, according to  an Education Next study.

While much of the debate around Teach For America (TFA) in recent years has focused on the effectiveness of its nontraditional recruits in the classroom, the real story is the degree to which TFA has succeeded in producing dynamic, impassioned, and entrepreneurial education leaders.

” TFA is one among a small cadre of organizations that currently includes New Leaders for New Schools, Education Pioneers, and Teach Plus” that are developing education leaders.  It’s an explicit part of TFA’s mission.

Recently, TFA started a new program, the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative, which explicitly promotes innovation and entrepreneurship in the education sector. The program facilitates connections between alumni interested in starting education ventures with established social entrepreneurs. The initiative supports TFA alumni who are applying for fellowships such as Echoing Green and the Mind Trust, provides tools for developing fundraising plans and grant proposals, and publishes a newsletter that includes information about funding opportunities and management strategies.

The KIPP network,  YES Prep Public Schools, New Schools for New Orleans and The New Teacher Project were founed by TFA alumni.

The study looked at founders of entrepreneurial education organizations. Where did they start?  TFA was the most common answer with fewer leaders coming from San Francisco Public Schools, Newark Public Schools, Chicago Public Schools, AmeriCorps, the White House Fellows program, McKinsey & Company, and the United States Department of Education.  Top managers also came from KIPP, founded by TFA alumni, and from consulting firms and large urban school districts.

It seems clear that explanatory factors include the criteria by which TFA recruits, the organization’s strong and purposive culture, the skills that corps members develop, and the opportunities provided to alumni. Just to take one example, by providing talented young college grads with classroom experience, TFA confers upon them a degree of credibility that opens doors that might open less readily for others.

TFA looks for leadership ability in recruiting new corps members, the study notes. TFA alumni who become education entrepreneurs are more likely to have worked in New York City or the San Francisco area, which have strong entrepreneurial cultures. As education entrepreneurs, they tend to focus on instruction and staffing rather than finance or management.

TFA should be judged not only on whether its recruits continue as teachers but also on the impact of those who leave the classroom, the authors conclude.

Teachers on video

More than 99 percent of teachers are rated satisfactory by their principals, reports a study on “the widget effect” by the New Teacher Project. The Gates Foundation is developing a new model, with the help of social scientists and teachers, reports the New York Times. Outside evaluators analyze videotapes to determine whether teachers are teaching well.

Twenty states are overhauling their teacher-evaluation systems, partly to fulfill plans set in motion by a $4 billion federal grant competition, and they are eagerly awaiting the research results.

For teachers, the findings could mean more scrutiny. But they may also provide more specific guidance about what is expected of the teachers in the classroom if new experiments with other measures are adopted — including tests that gauge teachers’ mastery of their subjects, surveys that ask students about the learning environments in their classes and digital videos of teachers’ lessons, scored by experts.

. . . Researchers and educators involved in the project described it as maddeningly complex in its effort to separate the attributes of good teaching from the idiosyncrasies of individual teachers.

Hundreds of teachers will be trained to review 64,000 hours of classroom video. They will look “for possible correlations between certain teaching practices and high student achievement, measured by value-added scores.”

A companion story gives examples of how evaluators score videos for rapport with students, pacing, transitions, clarity and whether they correct students’ errors thoroughly.

Teachers shouldn’t evaluated by checklist-using strangers who’ve never visited the school or met the teacher, writes Larry Ferlazzo. But there are good ways to videotape teachers.

Our school, led by principal Ted Appel, has begun having Kelly Young, an extraordinarily talented consultant on instructional strategies who we have been working with for years, videotape our lessons (I’ve written much about Kelly in this blog). He then meets with us to review an edited version of the tape, with us initially giving our own critique and reflections followed by his comments. This process is entirely outside of the official evaluation process, and is focused on helping teachers improve their craft.

“It has been one of the most significant professional development experiences I’ve had,” Ferlazzo writes.

At Alverno College in Milwaukee, prospective teachers study videotapes of their lessons to improve, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Ivelisse Cruz can barely watch the video footage from her first time teaching a math lesson.

The video shows Cruz, a first-semester sophomore at Alverno College at the time, hesitantly starting her lesson seated with a group of seventh-grade students around a small table at Fairview Charter School in Milwaukee. She doesn’t quite explain what the focus of their math lesson will be, looks slightly uncertain and speaks in what she would later criticize as a monotone voice.

. . . Fast forward through three more semesters, learning the art of teaching and spending time working with students.

Now the video shows a more confident woman standing at the front of her class, reviewing her work with the students from the week before, forecasting what the next lesson will be, calling a student to stand beside her at an overhead projector to walk through a practice problem.

Alverno is considered a national model for training teachers, “thanks to its combination of clinical and classroom experience and use of video and other tools to evaluate whether graduates are meeting the standards for what makes a good teacher,” reports the Journal-Sentinel.

Recession makes teaching a hot job

Career switchers are eager for teaching jobs, reports the Washington Post.

In many places, there are more converts to teaching than there are jobs, except in hard-to-fill posts in science, math and special education classes.

. . . Career-changers are considered desirable because they bring maturity and outside experiences into classrooms. They also help solve a perennial problem in public education, particularly in math and science: Too few teachers have a solid grasp of the subject they teach.

About one-third of new teachers come through alternative certification programs, which often include intensive summer training and sometimes extend to classroom mentoring. Quality varies.

If they’re thrown into tough teaching situations with little preparation, the new teachers may become overwhelmed and quit, warns Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford education professor.

However, The New Teacher Project estimates its retention rates are better than the average for urban districts, which often staff the toughest schools with the least experienced teachers.

Some districts have set up teaching “residencies” that let beginning teachers “learn under a great teacher in the same classroom for a year and take coursework to help analyze what they see,” reports the Post.

With a degree in Slavic linguistics, Betsy followed a traditional route to earn certification as a high school teacher.

In general, I found that my education courses were useless. The material that was useful on classroom management or lesson planning could have easily been delivered over a summer. . . . After that, the only thing is to throw new teachers into the deep end of either student teaching or a fellowship year but provide them with strong mentor and administration support. It will be a rocky experience, but I fail to believe that sitting around college classrooms taking education theory and psychology courses will do any better at preparing a novice teacher.

Knowing math isn’t enough to make a good math teacher, she believes. But it’s easier to teach a knowledgeable person how to teach than to make a person who doesn’t know math into a good teacher.

. . . I’d prefer to hire someone who had a history background and took a summer course on teacher training than hire someone who had an education degree with a few college courses in the history department. Both applicants might have trouble their first year, but mentor teachers at the school might have the time to teach the new hire how to present a good lesson; we don’t have time to teach the newbie all the history he or she needs to know to teach a high school class.

Newbies should be prepared for a tough job market, Betsy warns. Even North Carolina’s Teaching Fellows, graduates of a prestigious program, are having trouble finding work.

Performance pay is powerful

If we Get Performance Pay Right, it will transform schools, argues William Slotnick on Education Week.

Performance-based compensation . . . must be tied directly to the educational mission of a district and must focus on how a school system thinks and behaves—specifically in the areas of student learning, teacher support and rewards, and institutional culture.

. . . Linking teacher compensation to student performance stimulates discussion about the district’s goals for student achievement and what factors need to be addressed to reach those goals. This in turn leads to change.

Doing it right requires building trust between administrators and teachers, writes Slotnick of the Institute for Compensation Reform and Student Learning.

How do we evaluate teachers’ performance? Collect and analyze the data, writes Marcus Winters in City Journal. The data-crunching techniques that helped New York City police fight crime can be used in education, he argues.

Currently, 21 states have data systems capable of matching teachers to students. Duncan has pledged to use his discretionary funds under the federal stimulus package to get more states to do the same. It seems like a no-brainer. After all, who’s against having more information?

The teachers’ unions, that’s who. They’re fighting hard against the adoption of these systems precisely because the information they reveal is so useful. The unions insist, against all evidence and logic, that no meaningful variation exists in teacher quality. Further, in a clear case of making the perfect the enemy of the good, they argue that because test scores are a limited measure of student proficiency and statistical models for evaluating teacher quality are imperfect, the information that data-system analyses produce for individual teachers are not ready for prime time.

Without the use of data linking teachers to their students’ performance, there’s no meaningful evaluation of teachers’ effectiveness, Winters writes. A teacher may be observed once or twice a year — less in some states.  In a study of large school districts by the nonprofit New Teacher Project, over 99 percent of teachers were rated “satisfactory.” NTP calls this failure to distinguish between excellent, good, fair and poor teachers The Widget Effect.