Evaluating teachers: What about special ed?

Evaluating teachers based on their students’ performance is tricky. It’s even harder to evaluate special education teachers whose students may have a variety of disabilities, notes AP.

To get Race to the Top funds, states must boost the number of effective teachers in special education and other hard-to-staff specialties. Federal officials want to link teacher effectiveness to whether students reach “acceptable rates” of academic growth. What does that mean? States are trying to figure it out.

In Florida, the process has already begun, with a committee examining a broad range of conditions, from dyslexia to traumatic brain injuries, and analyzing the effect on test scores.

. . . the committee decided students with similar disabilities who can take Florida’s statewide math and reading assessment should be compared to one another. The student’s prior academic achievement will also be factored in. Teachers will then be evaluated based on how much above or below the average their students performed.

So every autistic child is just like every other autistic child . . .

California charters are high (and low) scoring

California charter schools are more likely to be top — and bottom — performers in state rankings, concludes a Portrait of the Movement released by the California Charter Schools Association.

The report finds a “U-shaped” distribution for charter schools, meaning they were more likely both to exceed their predicted performance compared with non-charters, based on student background, and — to a lesser extent — under-perform. It concludes that 14.7 percent of charters were in the top 5 percent of California schools, well above the 4 percent of non-charters in that category. But 12.7 percent of charters showed up in the bottom 5 percent of performance, compared to just 4.2 percent of non-charters.

Because successful schools enroll more students, California charter students are twice as likely to attend a high-performing charter as a low-performing charter.

Review: 75% of charter studies are flawed

Seventy-five percent of charter school studies are flawed because they fail to account for charter students’ differences in academic background and performance, according to a meta-analysis published in Science.

High-quality research is emerging from charters that use lotteries to pick students, write Julian R. Betts, a professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego, and Richard C. Atkinson, a former president of the University of California system who once served as director of the National Science Foundation. Students who apply to a charter but lose the lottery represent a sound control group, they write.

The relatively small number of lottery-based studies of charter schools have generally shown that they either outperform or perform at the same level as traditional public schools, according to the authors. But those studies cover only a small fraction—about 2 percent—of charter schools nationally.

However, charters that need lotteries for admission may be unusually good schools, the authors warn.

Urban superintendents collaborate with charters

More than 20 urban districts have adopted a “portfolio” strategy, holding district-run and independent charter schools to the same performance standards, reports Hopes, Fears, & Reality, the Center on Reinventing Education’s 2011 charter school review.

In 16 cities, leaders have pledged to work together for student success by “creating common student enrollment systems, sharing facilities, equalizing funding, encouraging teachers and principals to share instructional strategies, and sharing responsibility for students with special needs.”

“Urban school superintendents across the country are realizing that a centrally delivered, one-size-fits-all approach simply is not viable, and that they need partnerships to bring in entrepreneurial talent and mission-driven teams,” writes editor Robin Lake.

Charters are expanding in rural areas, small towns and small states; and are serving a growing share of Hispanic and low-income students. Free-standing charter schools are growing faster than those run by charter management organizations.

Collaboration can sap charters’ ability to innovate, warn several analysts in the commentary section.

Don’t assume that practices and routines that “work” for one school will work everywhere, warns Rick Hess.

As I see it, the real power of charter schooling is that it presents “greenfield” in which new cultures and models can be established on fresh turf, rather than painfully injected into resistant, calcified systems. The closer charters start to work with existing districts, the more they seem bound to import norms, expectations, and routines from those systems.

Charter success 2.0 will require rethinking “long-held assumptions about the shape of teaching and schooling,” he writes.  ”Linking charters more closely to entrenched systems threatens to make that process less likely.”

Overpaid teachers

Teachers earn similar wages — and much higher benefits — when compared to similarly skilled private-sector workers, concludes a study released in November by Jason Richwine of The Heritage Foundation and Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute. Including benefits, teachers make $1.52 for every dollar earned by similarly skilled workers in the private sector.

In a new paper and an Ed Week article, Richwine and Biggs respond to their many critics.

Comparing teachers to private-sector workers with similar levels of education misses the difference in cognitive skills, they argue. The study measured teachers’ reading and math skills on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) and found “teachers are paid commensurately with their cognitive skills.”

Teaching requires “important organizational and interpersonal skills that formal tests may not capture,” they concede.  However, these skills should be valuable in other jobs as well.

If teachers are not fairly paid for their non-cognitive skills, one would expect teachers who shifted to private-sector jobs to receive significant raises. But they do not. Using data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, we are able to track changes in individuals’ salaries as they switch jobs. We have shown that the average public-school teacher suffers a slight wage decrease upon leaving the profession.

Paying all teachers more money won’t improve teacher quality, they argue.

What is needed is a more rational system that pays teachers according to their performance, encouraging the best teachers to stay and the least effective teachers to leave the profession.

Public school administrators rarely have the flexibility to do this, they write.

Bush on No Child Left Behind

Former President George W. Bush is “extremely proud” of No Child Left Behind’s effects he tells Andrew Rotherham on the law’s 10th anniversary.

For the first time, the federal government basically demanded results in return for money. It started by saying, We expect you to measure [student performance]. As a result, there has been a noticeable change in achievement, particularly among minority groups. And I’m proud of that accomplishment and proud of the fact we were able to work with people from both parties to get it done.

The 10th anniversary is “a time to fight off those who would weaken standards or accountability,” Bush adds in the Time interview. People in both parties are trying to weaken accountability, he says. (He seems to be more concerned about small-government Republicans than Democrats.)

Some on the right think there is no role for the federal government [in education]. Some on the left are saying it’s unfair to teachers — basically, union issues. People don’t like to be held to account.

Pouring federal dollars into schools, regardless of results, had to end, writes Rotherham in defense of NCLB.

The increased focus on accountability has produced some benefits. For starters, NCLB has changed educators from arguing about whether to hold schools accountable for performance to arguing about how to do it. That’s no small accomplishment in a field that is notoriously hostile to change and is particularly averse to the concept of consequential accountability. (It’s hard to overstate this; I’ve been in meetings where people have requested that words like “performance” not be used because they consider them offensive terms.) . . .  Elementary and secondary education is a $650 billion annual undertaking, but, until recently, even basic measures of — yes — performance were not routinely taken or analyzed.

The law highlighted achievement gaps and sparked achievement gains or low-income and minority kids, Rotherham writes.

On the flip side, NCLB left most of the major decisions to states and localities, letting “proficiency” be defined down. Many  schools have taken “ineffective or even counterproductive steps in an effort to boost test scores rather than actually teach kids.”

President Bush pumped up federal education spending, but “these dollars were sent through the same pipes and used in much the same way they had been for the previous three decades,” Rotherham concludes.

Ed Week rounds up commentary from the usual suspects.

 

Money matters

Money matters, concludes a Shanker Institute report (pdf), which looks at ways that school spending improves student performance. When schools have larger budgets, they’re empowered to spend more opportunistically and productively, concludes Bruce Baker, a Rutgers education professor.  ”In short, money matters, resources that cost money matter, and the more equitable distribution of school funding can improve outcomes,” Baker writes.

 

Study: Great teachers have lifelong impact

Students with an excellent elementary or middle-school teacher don’t just earn higher reading and math scores, concludes a new study that tracked one million students in an urban district over 20 years. A single year with a high value-added teacher leads to higher college attendance, higher adult earnings and even lower teenage-pregnancy rates, according to the authors, economists Raj Chetty and John Friedman of Harvard and Columbia Professor Jonah Rockoff.

All else equal, a student with one excellent teacher for one year between fourth and eighth grade would gain $4,600 in lifetime income, compared to a student of similar demographics who has an average teacher. The student with the excellent teacher would also be 0.5 percent more likely to attend college.

It may be difficult to hire more excellent (top five percent) teachers, but it’s not necessary.

. . . the difference in long-term outcome between students who have average teachers and those with poor-performing ones is as significant as the difference between those who have excellent teachers and those with average ones, the study found.

It adds up: Replacing a low-value-added (bottom five percent) teacher with an average teacher would raise a single classroom’s lifetime earnings by about $266,000, the economists estimate.

“If you leave a low value-added teacher in your school for 10 years, rather than replacing him with an average teacher, you are hypothetically talking about $2.5 million in lost income,” said Professor Friedman, one of the coauthors.

. . . “The message is to fire people sooner rather than later,” Professor Friedman said.

When a high value-added teacher transferred to a new school, student performance went up in the grade or subject area taught by that teacher, matching predicted gains. Scores dropped in the school the high-value teacher had left. Conversely, scores went up significantly when a low-value teacher left and dropped in her new school.

High performing teachers may more than justify much higher pay,” Slate observes.

“Great teachers create great value – perhaps several times their annual salaries,” write the authors. Now a working paper, the study will be submitted to a journal.

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

More states link teacher evaluation to test scores

Most states have strengthened oversight of teachers in the last two years and nearly half now tie teacher evaluations to student performance, according to a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality.

“We’ve seen a major policy shift away from [teacher] evaluations that tell us little about whether kids in a particular teacher’s classroom are learning, to evaluations designed to actually identify our most outstanding teachers and those who consistently underperform,” said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the council, which advocates judging teachers based on performance.

The administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition awarded grants to states that linked teacher evaluations to student test scores. “This year, Republican governors in Idaho, Indiana, Nevada and Michigan ushered in overhauls to teacher rating, compensation, bargaining rights and tenure,” adds the Wall Street Journal.

In Florida, tenure was eliminated. In Colorado, teachers now must get three positive ratings to earn tenure and can lose it after two bad ones. Several states, including Indiana and Michigan, did away with “last in, first out” union rules that resulted in districts laying off effective new teachers instead of ineffective tenured ones. Indiana and Tennessee passed merit-pay laws that base teacher pay primarily on classroom performance.

However, teachers’ unions are fighting the new policies, the report said.

States and school districts are contracting with both non-profit and for-profit groups to “design evaluations, train teachers and principals in how to use them, and set up online platforms to help sort all of the new data that schools will be collecting,” notes the Hechinger Report. Foundation money and the Obama administration’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top initiative is funding millions of dollars in contracts.