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.

How to change teacher pay systems

William Taylor earns a hefty bonus for being a highly effective teacher in a high-poverty Washington, D.C. school.

William Taylor, 29, teaches math and coaches colleagues at a Washington, D.C. elementary school. Only 40 percent of his students start at grade level, but 90 percent end the year at or above grade level, reported Amanda Ripley in a 2010 Atlantic story on “what makes a great teacher.”

Before District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) revamped teacher compensation in 2009, Taylor was paid $42,000 a year.

In 2013, after seven straight years of extraordinary performance reviews Taylor received a base salary of $96,000, a $25,000 bonus for being a highly effective teacher in a high-poverty school, and a $10,000 award for outstanding teaching and dedication to his work.

Taylor no longer plans to leave the profession, according to Do More, Add More, Earn More. The report by Education Resource Strategies and the Center for American Progress looks at 10 school districts that have redesigned their teacher compensation systems to reward effectiveness and additional responsibilities.

The transition is challenging, writes Fawn Johnson on National Journal.

 The authors recommend, for example, that teachers be offered extra incentive pay for taking jobs in hard-to-staff schools or for taking on leadership roles such as department heads, curriculum writers, or principal interns. They suggest speeding up the salary growth for new, high-performing teachers such that they can reach the district maximum in 10 years or fewer. New hires will more likely be attracted to the job if they know they won’t be on subsistence wages well into middle age.

. . . Teachers on the old salary structure need to be transitioned into a new one that doesn’t automatically increase their pay for time on the job or for extraneous things like advanced degrees. The lowest-performing teachers need to stop getting raises. Period. These changes can be incredibly disruptive, especially in districts that need to cull a lot of “dead weight” teachers. (Yes, that happens.)

Teacher evaluation is the trickiest part.

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.

Teacher-centric charter raises scores

At The Equity Project, a charter school for grades 5 through 8 in New York City, teachers start at $125,000 with a chance to earn a $25,000 bonus. They have none of the traditional job protections. The idea is to attract and develop exceptional teachers to work with disadvantaged students.

Kadeem Gill teaches sixth-grade math at The Equity Project.

Kadeem Gill teaches sixth-grade math at The Equity Project.

After four years at the school, eighth graders have learned significantly more — especially in math — than similar students in district schools, concludes a Mathematica study.

TEP students “had test score gains equal to an additional 1.6 years of school in math, an additional 0.4 years of school in English language arts, and an additional 0.6 years of school in science,” Mathematica reported. That closed 78 percent of the Hispanic-white achievement gap in math, 17 percent in English language arts, and 25 percent in science. (Nearly all of TEP’s students are Hispanic.)

The founder and principal, Zeke Vanderhoek, earns $94,000 a year, less than his teachers, notes the Wall Street Journal.  The “charter has a lean administrative staff and slightly larger classes—31 students compared with an average of about 26 or 27 in district schools—so it can pour resources into teacher pay and training.”

Job applicants submit video of their teaching styles and evidence of their students’ growth. If invited for an interview, they have daylong auditions, leading classes under scrutiny of the staff.

Teachers are observed by colleagues and get feedback weekly, and they have four weeks of full-day professional development each year. Days are long, with teachers at work from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and students attending from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Many teachers don’t last. Of 43 hired during the four years studied, 47% didn’t return for a second year, in most cases because they weren’t asked back. That is higher turnover than in district middle schools, where 27% don’t come back for a second year, the study said.

The charter’s students resemble students in district schools in their academic backgrounds and attrition rate, the study found. TEP did not expel any students. In 2012-13, about 21 percent of the charter’s students were English language learners and 21 percent had special needs, city data show.

“While the charter’s students showed more growth, many still struggled,” the Journal reports. Forty-three percent of TEP eighth graders passed state math exams in 2013, compared to 28 percent citywide.

Higher pay lets the school pick from a large pool of applicants. But is the key to success the intensive training and feedback? Or just the willingness to fire teachers who aren’t quite good enough?

Chalkbeat New York looks at teacher Kadeem Gill, who grew up in public housing projects in the city. He got a scholarship to boarding school, then went to Princeton. His brother, who had behavioral and emotional problems, dropped out at 16. His half-brother was shot to death.

Efficiency Index: U.S. overpays teachers

U.S. schools overpay teachers, according to the international “Efficiency Index” released by GEMS Education Solutions.

The report was created with the support of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, which created the PISA exam. leader

The U.S. ranked 19 out of 30 OECD countries, because teachers earn higher salaries than necessary to attract competent teachers and classes are smaller than necessary. (I don’t know how they calculate this.)

Yet the U.S. rates as “more efficient than effective,” along with countries such as Hungary, France, Britain and Sweden.

Finland, Japan and Korea do the best in efficiency and quality (as measured by PISA scores). Finland and Korea achieve excellent results with relatively large class sizes – the 3rd and 5th largest of the OECD countries – and pay teachers moderate wages, the report noted.

Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and others were effective, but not very efficient.

Brazil, Chile, Greece, Indonesia and Turkey were both inefficient and ineffective.

‘Paltry’ pay for mid-career teachers

Experienced teachers earn “paltry” salaries in many state, reports the Center for American Progress.

In Colorado, teachers with a graduate degree and 10 years of experience make less than a trucker in the state. In Oklahoma, teachers with 15 years of experience and a master’s degree make less than sheet metal workers. And teachers in Georgia with 10 years of experience and a graduate degree make less than a flight attendant in the state.

In South Dakota, a teacher with 10 years experience averages $33,100 per year, well below the state’s median income and about what a press operator earns.

In Canada, starting salaries are lower for primary teachers, but rise more quickly, the report notes. By mid-career, Canadian teachers earn about $10,000 more than U.S. teachers.


Districts drop extra pay for master’s

Teachers with master’s degrees aren’t any more effective than their non-degreed colleagues, say researchers. Now North Carolina, Dallas and Houston are cutting extra pay for advanced degrees.

“Effectiveness is more based on results rather than any checklist of things,” said Dallas Superintendent Mike Miles, who implemented a pay-for-performance system in the district, as he did at his previous district in Colorado. “So years of service and the advance degrees are checklist-type things.”

Yet the backlash in North Carolina grew so intense that the state is now looking at reinstating the extra pay for those teaching classes related to the subject in which they have an advanced degree.

Teacher turnover is up sharply in the state’s largest school district, Wake County.

Teachers should be paid based on how hard their jobs are and how well they’re doing them, argues The New Teachers Project in Shortchanged: The Hidden Cost of Lockstep Teacher Pay

Effective teachers should be able to move quickly up the pay scale in the first five years and earn raises for strong classroom performance, the report recommends. In addition, compensation systems should reward “great teachers in high-need schools.”

Poll: Teaching is ‘average’ profession

College students with A or B+ grades see teaching as a low-prestige job for “average” people, according to the National Online Survey of College Students. Education majors are nice, socially conscious people who aren’t very ambitious, said the respondents. Education is one of the easiest majors, they believed.

Despite efforts to recruit top students to teaching, nearly half of American teachers still graduate in the bottom third of their college classes writes Conor Williams on EdCentral. A quarter of teacher preparation programs accept nearly every applicant, and two-thirds of programs have acceptance rates over 50 percent.

Only 17 percent of students surveyed reported that they were “very interested” in teaching, while fully 40 percent weren’t interested at all, writes Williams.

What would make the B+ or better students consider a teaching career? Higher pay for all teachers, higher pay for highly effective teachers and better student loan repayment for teachers.

The report suggests that the Department of Education use NCLB waivers to ensure that all districts “create and implement stratified career ladders and differentiated pay structures that offer the best teachers the opportunity to stay in the classroom while taking on additional responsibility and earning increased autonomy,” writes Williams.

(Successful) students are uninterested in a career with low base compensation and no connection between quality work and salary increases. They’re not attracted to “step and lane” contracts. Maybe there’s room in today’s Overton Window to pay teachers more on the condition that they were also held more responsible for the effects of their work.

Nearly three in four teachers became teachers because they wanted to make a difference in children’s lives and enjoy working with children, according to a University of Phoenix College of Education survey.

Time-tech swaps can raise teacher pay

Blended learning can personalize instruction — and enable teachers to earn at least 20 percent more, write Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan Hassel on Education Next.

In Time-Technology Swaps, excellent teachers “reach more students, for more pay, within budget, without having to increase class sizes,” they write. Lower-paid aides supervise the online-learning time.

Blended-learning teachers can also use some of their freed time for planning and collaboration.

Why teachers quit (and stay)

How can schools attract and retain good teachers? asks Liz Riggs in The AtlanticForty to 50 percent of teachers quit within the first five years, including nearly 10 percent who quit before the end of their first year says Richard Ingersoll, a high school teacher (for “nearly six years”) turned education professor.

“One of the big reasons I quit was sort of intangible,” Ingersoll says. “But it’s very real: It’s just a lack of respect,” he says.

Other teachers — and former teachers — tell Riggs about the exhaustion, the stress and the inadequate pay.

Working conditions are more important than pay, says Thomas Smith, a Vanderbilt education professor.

  He pointed to a study by the Benwood Foundation that offered teachers in Chattanooga large bonuses to go teach in lower-performing schools. The study found that few teachers were willing to move for this kind of offer. (In fact, according to Smith, the initiative had to be reengineered to offer bonuses to teachers already in those schools.)

To improve the quality of teaching, “improve the quality of the teaching job,” says Ingersoll.“If you really improve that job… you would attract good people and you would keep them.”