Without literate teachers, pre-K will flop

Highly literate pre-K teachers can help disadvantaged kids develop vocabulary and pre-reading skills, writes Connor Williams on The 74. But many preschool teachers aren’t well educated. How will we hire and train early educators who can close language gaps?

“We know the child’s word-gap risk increases his/her lifelong academic, social and income disparities,” e-mailed Elizabeth A. Gilbert, Director of the University of Massachusetts’ Learn at Work Early Childhood Educator Program. “The low-literacy early childhood educator’s word gap is one of the results of such disparity.”

It’s not enough to be great with kids, or have loads of charisma. Early educators need to build emotional connections with children, yes, and that can help students develop social skills and perseverance. But they also need to help students develop linguistically.

Preschool teachers are paid more like babysitters than teachers. If that doesn’t change, it will be impossible to hire highly literate pre-k teachers. It’s very clear that low-quality preschool and pre-K doesn’t improve children’s odds of success in school.


It’s the same old teacher shortage

Despite what you hear or read, there is no national teacher shortage, asserts Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality. A few districts are having real problems, but the real shortage is nothing new: “All schools, as they have for decades, continue to struggle mightily to find certain kinds of teachers (STEM, ELL, special education).”

Why? Schools refuse to pay more “to attract people who have skills which are marketable elsewhere, to live in an undesirable location or to work in tougher environments,” writes Walsh.

Teacher-prep programs have been over-enrolling students for years, “routinely graduating twice as many new elementary teachers as public schools hire each year.” she writes. Now programs are graduating fewer surplus elementary teachers.

Teacher-prep programs have been over-enrolling students for years, “routinely graduating twice as many new elementary teachers as public schools hire each year.” she writes. Now programs are graduating fewer surplus elementary teachers.

Some districts have begun to panic, Walsh writes.

They’re used to having to sort through a pile of resumes to find a single good hire. They are not nimble or flexible enough to adapt their recruiting and hiring practices to a tighter job market.”

What is a reasonable response to a downturn in teacher production?  It’s not to open the floodgates and let anyone teach. We need to continue to encourage teacher prep programs to become more selective and do a better job preparing new teachers, so that districts don’t have to count on 20 resumes to find a single qualified teacher.

There’s a huge pool of credentialed teachers who left — or never got a chance to enter — the profession, she writes. “And we encourage districts to pay teachers in chronic shortage areas or who are willing to teach in really tough locales more than others.”

Teachers are professionals — not missionaries

Teachers are skilled professionals — not missionaries, writes Amanda Ripley in The Washingtonian. Talking about teaching as a low-status career for the selfless drives away the smart, ambitious people the profession needs.

In Washington, D.C., public school teachers earn as much or more than other college-educated professionals, Ripley writes. Median pay was $75,000 last year and “teachers who work in low-income public schools and get strong performance reviews can earn more than $125,000 after fewer than ten years.”

In addition, teachers can “apply to become master educators, who formally evaluate teachers and provide targeted feedback.”

Yet, “many people still talk about teachers as if they volunteer in a soup kitchen—as if the hardest part is just showing up,” she writes.

Hope Harrod, DC’s 2012 Teacher of the Year, is tired of being told she’s doing “God’s work.” Teaching is not a sacrifice for her. It’s an “intellectual journey” she finds “deeply engaging.”

By “intellectual journey,” Harrod means the workplace questions that teachers grapple with daily: Why is Juan insisting that the answer is 15.5 and not 18? What’s happening in his head that isn’t happening in Scarlette’s head? How can she give him the tools to take apart his own process and rebuild it, piece by piece?

D.C. “now retains about 92 percent of its highest-ranked teachers,” writes Ripley. Boosting pay and status makes a difference.

That issue comes up in a Tampa Bay Tribune story about a veteran teacher who quit to become a librarian, complaining of mandatory lesson plans, endless meetings and micromanagement.

The profession of teaching comes in for a lot of “bashing,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “The unions and reformers and legislators, whoever, are telling you that teaching is a lousy job and nobody lets you do it the way you want to do it. It has a way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Teacher pay is skewed to late-career teachers

Low teacher salaries often are linked to high turnover or teacher shortages, writes Marguerite Roza on Brookings’ Chalkboard. Districts make the problem worse by steering pay to high-seniority teachers nearing the end of their careers.

Young and mid-career teachers — the ones most likely to leave — earn less so senior teachers can earn more.

Teaching doesn’t resemble other professions, her study finds. “Other professionals (lawyers, doctors, accountants, computer programmers) reach their peak salaries around age 40; teachers enter their 40s with much lower earnings on average and don’t hit peak earnings until age 55 or so.”

Most teachers still earn “step” increases for experience and “bumps” for graduate credits, Roza writes. “In some districts, the differential is so high that a senior teacher earns the equivalent salary of two junior teachers for the same job title and duties.”

Annual cost of living increases (COLAs) often exacerbate salary differences between early-career and late-career teachers.

The $100,000 teacher

Does It Pay To Pay Teachers $100,000? asks NPR.

The average pay for U.S. teacher is about $56,000, but pay-for-performance schemes in cities such as Washington, D.C. are pushing salaries to $100,000 and higher.

Elementary teacher Hope Harrod earns much more thanks to Washington D.C.'s performance bonuses.

Washington D.C.’s performance bonuses have pushed elementary teacher Hope Harrod’s pay to nearly $100,000.

Hope Harrod, a D.C. elementary teacher for 14 years, saw her pay go way up in 2010 under a new teacher evaluation system created by Michelle Rhee, then the city’s schools chancellor.

Now earning close to $100,000 under Impact Plus, Harrod feels “like I’m very much in a system that’s honoring me in a way that other systems don’t honor other teachers.”

This year, 765 D.C. teachers earn $100,000 or more, including bonuses, reports NPR.

Rather than advance teachers solely on the basis of seniority or education, the city school system rewards performance, with an evaluation system that involves classroom observations, test scores and other criteria.

. . . Essentially, the contract was a trade: more money for important concessions. Teachers agreed to competitive performance evaluations and the loss of tenure protections in return for the chance to increase their base salaries and receive bonuses.

Applications for teaching jobs have risen by 45 percent, say D.C. officials.

Some teachers oppose performance pay because they fear evaluations will be unfair and inaccurate.

“In nearly 90 percent of districts across the nation, teachers are not recognized for their effectiveness through increased compensation,” reports the Center for American Progress. a CAP report looks at 10 cities that are revamping their pay systems to reward top teachers.

Teacher evaluation sticker shock in Florida

With hundreds of mentors and “peer evaluators,” big raises for teachers and consultants’ fees, teacher evaluation has become a budget buster in Hillsborough County, Florida, reports Marlene Sokol for the Tampa Bay Times.

The Gates Foundation offered $100 million to fund Empowering Effective Teachers if the district paid the other half. Although other foundations also contributed, the district’s share has ballooned to $124 million.

Frank Hannaway teaches music at MacFarlane Elementary in Hillsborough County, Florida. Credit: Willie J. Allen, Jr., Tampa Bay Times

Frank Hannaway teaches music at MacFarlane Elementary in Hillsborough County, Florida. Credit: Willie J. Allen, Jr., Tampa Bay Times

“With $200 million in private and public money to play with, it was as if the district dined out nightly, ordered lobster and never kept track of the mounting tab,” writes Sokol.

Teachers got raises for performance — and for seniority. Most of the big raises went to veteran teachers in suburban schools, while high-poverty schools continued to get the least experienced, lowest-paid teachers.

Test scores rose, but the district continues to lag on graduation rates.

Hillsborough may cut back on peer evaluators, instead asking high-performing teachers to provide “non-evaluative” feedback to colleagues.

Valerie Strauss is leading the chorus of sneers, writing, “Another Bill Gates-funded education reform project, starting with mountains of cash and sky-high promises, is crashing to Earth.”

Graph for press release.PNG

Forty-three states require that student achievement and growth be included in teacher evaluations, according to a National Council on Teacher Quality report. In 35 states, it’s a significant factor.

Only Alabama, New Hampshire and Texas have teacher effectiveness policies that exist only in waiver promises made to the U.S. Department of Education.

Duncan proposes prison-to-school pipeline

Freeing half of non-violent prison inmates would save $15 billion to fund 56 percent pay hikes for teachers at high-poverty schools, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a National Press Club speech yesterday. Duncan envisions a “prison-to-school pipeline,” as Ed Week puts it.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch  lists to Alphonso Coates, a jail inmate in an education program.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch listen to Alphonso Coates, a jail inmate in an education program. Photo: Washington Post

“We cannot lay our incarceration crisis at the door of our schools,” Duncan said. “But we have to do our part to end the school to prison pipeline.”

Duncan also proposed $25,000 pay hikes for mentor teachers at high-poverty schools.

More than two-thirds of state prison inmates are high school dropouts, according to the DOE.

If their teachers had earned more, would they have done better? Or were they trapped in the bad parenting-to-prison pipeline?

However, the Education and Justice departments have released guidelines urging schools to reduce expulsions and suspensions, notes the Washington Post.

Tying racial patterns in school discipline to academic achievement gaps and to the national debate about racial discrimination by police, Duncan urged educators to examine their biases, their “own attitudes and decisions, and the ways they are tied to race and class.”

If Duncan wants more high-quality teachers in high-poverty schools, accusing educators of being racially biased probably isn’t a good move.

Locking up fewer non-violent offenders may be good policy. But it’s not cost free. The “savings” would have to go to supervise thieves, train the unskilled, rehab addicts and alcoholics, care for the mentally ill, house the homeless — and police neighborhoods. Don’t expect states or cities to hand over the money to the schools.

Why teachers don’t earn as much as LeBron

Key and Peele’s Teaching Center, a spoof of ESPN’s Sports Center, has been a huge hit with teachers, writes James Shuls on Jay Greene’s blog. But here’s What Really Prevents Us from Treating Teachers Like Professional Athletes, he writes. “Most of the things being celebrated in Teaching Center are often opposed by teachers themselves.”

For starters, Teaching Center continually focuses on test scores from standardized assessments. The ticker at the bottom of the screen shows ACT, SAT, and other test scores for schools. The number one teacher taken in the high school draft is chosen by the school with the “worst test scores last semester.” This hyper-focus on test scores (and competition in general) is anathema to most teachers. Indeed, teachers routinely oppose standardized testing.

. . .  The problem is that teachers’ unions resist almost any effort to differentiate between good and bad teachers. The fact is some teachers are better than others, whether we measure that by a test score or by some other metric. If we cannot differentiate between these teachers, then the Ruby Ruhf’s of the world will never get their $40 million in bonus pay.

If pro athletes were paid like teachers, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers would earn the same as Cincinnati Bengal kicker Mike Nugent because they were drafted in the same year, writes Shuls.

Teachers won’t get “million-dollar contracts, but the best ones – the ones that significantly improve student achievement and make a lasting impact on students – could easily garner six- figure salaries,” writes Shuls, who is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. “Now, we just need to get teachers on board with this.”

There’s no tenure in pro sports, adds Larry Sand. Fumble too often and you’re out of a job.

Kim Ki-hoon

Kim Ki-hoon

In South Korea, “rock-star teacher” Kim Ki-hoon earns $4 million a year, reported Amanda Ripley in the Wall Street Journal in  2013.

He works in a private tutoring academy about 60 hours a week. He lectures for three hours a week, records his classes on video and sells them online for $4 an hour. “He spends most of his week responding to students’ online requests for help, developing lesson plans and writing accompanying textbooks and accompanying textbooks and workbooks (some 200 to date),” wrote Ripley.

“The harder I work, the more I make,” he told Ripley. “I like that.”

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.