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.

Liberals, stop ‘awfulizing’ my kids

Schools can’t defeat poverty by ignoring it, writes Anthony Cody, a veteran teacher in Oakland, in an exchange with the Gates Foundation. “In the US, the linchpin for education is not teacher effectiveness or data-driven management systems,” he writes. “It is the effects of poverty and racial isolation on our children.”

Dear Lord, Stop These Liberals From Awfulizing My Kids, responds Chris Stewart on Education Post.

Every possible chart, graph, study and statistic paint an ugly picture where all poor kids of color live in violent urban neighborhoods and suffer from PTSD. Exposure to violence has reduced their test scores. Bad parents have not taught them to speak enough words. Indeed, their parents are socially, emotionally or intellectually unfit.

One in six of these kids is in “extreme poverty.” This breaks their brains and leaves them developmentally delayed.

The numbers “receiving free or reduced price lunches has grown significantly,”  “one child in ten has been foreclosed upon” and more “than one million students are homeless.”

All this encourages teachers to lower expectations, writes Stewart. “Why is it failing teachers so often discuss poverty and successful teachers discuss pedagogy, curriculum, instruction and learning?”girl_englewood-716x320

Cody slams “education reformers” for pretending that teachers can “push students to new heights with our high expectations.”

Teachers account for no more than 20 percent of the variance in student test scores, writes Cody, while more than 60 percent correlates to out-of-school factors. “We cannot solve the problem of educational inequity while we ignore the inequitable and inadequate resources available to low-income children in their homes and communities, as well as their schools.”

Stewart wonders: “How does it feel to be a ‘teacher’ who sees teaching as futile?”

It may feel compassionate to enumerate all the life problems of our children, but it isn’t. It is limiting and hurtful. Bright poor kids are as likely to be discounted as struggling ones.

Stewart teaches only his own five children, he writes. “Still, I interview talented teachers and committed administrators often, and they speak differently than the fatalists . . . They are students of success, not experts on failure.”

In The Smartest Kids In The World, Amanda Ripley recounts a conversation with a Finnish teacher.

When she asked him about educating poor students, he was “visibly uncomfortable labeling his students,” she says. He responded, “I don’t want to think about their backgrounds too much…There are twenty-three pearls in my classroom. I don’t want to scratch them.”

. . . “I don’t want to have too much empathy for them, because I have to teach. If I thought about all of this [their poverty] too much, I would give better marks to them for worse work. I’d think, ‘Oh, you poor kid. Oh, well, what can I do?’ That would make my job too easy.”

That attitude does more to help children who live in poverty than “awfulizing” them, concludes Stewart.

Teachers of the year on Core teaching

The National Network of State Teachers of the Year has released 12 videos of “teachers of the year” discussing how Common Core standards have affected their classrooms.

Here’s Jane Schmidt, Iowa teacher of the year in 2014:

It helps (a little) to look like the teacher

Blacks and whites do slightly better in reading and math when taught by a teacher of the same race, concludes a new study that used Florida data. The benefit was stronger for lower-performing students.

Matching teachers to their students won’t work in integrated schools, of course.

Sometimes, A is for alike

The Teacher's Pet
LA Johnson/NPR

Teachers overestimate the abilities of students who resemble them in personality, according to a newly published paper. They downgrade students who are different.

Teacher bias could hold students back, writes Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

This study looked at a group of 93 teachers and 294 students in eighth grade in Germany. Everyone took a short test to establish basic features of their personalities: extraversion, agreeableness and the like.

They gave the students reading and math tests too, sharing the test items with the teachers. Then they asked the teachers two questions: How good is this student compared to an average eighth grader? How well will this student do on this test?

Teachers’ judgment was linked to their personality match on the first question. However, they were more accurate in estimating the results of a specific test.

“A recent study from Israel showed that teachers gave girls lower grades on math tests when they knew their gender,” writes Kamenetz.

If teachers give students who are similar to them better grades, or even just maintain higher expectations of those students, what does that do for the students who don’t look or act like their teachers?

It’s important to balance teachers’ “holistic” evaluations with assessments that aren’t graded by a student’s own teacher, says Tobias Rausch, one of the researchers. He also thinks teachers should be trained to notice their biases.

Teaching preschool doesn’t pay

Child-care workers earn about $10 an hour, according to a new Berkeley report, “Worthy Work, Still Unlivable Wages. That’s more than fast-food cooks but less than animal caretakers. Preschool teachers earn 40 percent less than kindergarten teachers.

Pay preschool teachers like they matter, argues Laura Bornfreund in  The Atlantic. Early-childhood educators can make a big difference, research shows.

 The adults working in early-childhood programs set the foundation for future learning, developing essential knowledge in their young students as well as the skills, habits, and mindsets children need to succeed later in school and flourish in life. And the quality of interactions between teachers and children is especially important when it comes to sustaining the gains children make in pre-k programs.

 It will be hard to hire and retain smart, skilled preschool teachers if they’re paid like babysitters. 

U.S. teachers teach more, but not much more

U.S. teachers spend more time in front of their classes than teachers in other developed countries, but not much more, concludes a new Columbia study,  The Mismeasure of Teaching Time.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated U.S. teachers spend 50 to 73 percent more time instructing classes, notes Education Week. The new study says that’s way off.

• Primary school teachers in grades K-6 spend 12 percent, not 50 percent, more time leading class each year than the average in the 34 OECD member countries.

• Teachers in grades 7-9 teach 14 percent, not 65 percent, longer than their global peers.

• Upper-secondary teachers spend 11 percent, not 73 percent, longer on instructional time.

The report recommends “reducing instructional time for students by following the Finnish model,” which gives students 15-minute breaks between lessons for fresh air, play and relaxation.

Why teachers don’t stand up for the profession

“If teachers are ever going to establish themselves as fully professional, they will need to develop an authentic, very public voice and vehicles to advocate for their professional interests and control over their own work, writes Nancy Flanagan in Nine Reasons Teachers are Unwilling to Stand Up for Their Profession.

U.S. teachers are smarter than you think

U.S. teachers are smarter than you think, writes Jill Barshay on the Hechinger Report.

A 2010 McKinsey report spotlighted a “talent gap” in teaching. Almost half of new teachers come from the bottom third of SAT takers, said the report. By contrast, the “world’s top performing school systems draw teachers from the best and brightest.”

But new research argues that quality never dropped that low and is rebounding.  A recently published “study of new teachers in New York state . . . found that at the worst point — in 1999 — almost 30 percent of new teachers came from the bottom third, as measured by SAT scores,” and 30 percent came from the top third, writes Barshay. Ten years later, more than 40 percent of new teachers scored in the top third and fewer than 20 percent in the bottom third.

2013 University of Washington study also found rising test scores for new teachers.

A Stanford study, not yet published, estimates the average SAT/ACT scores of a new teacher declined to the 42nd percentile in 2000 and rose to the 48th percentile by 2008.

Math scores rose strongly, while verbal scores increased slightly.

Back in 1993, the typical hire at a private elementary school had SAT scores that were 4 points higher than her or his public school counterpart. By 2008, they were 5 percentage points lower. . . . Private high school teachers continue to have higher SAT scores than public high school teachers.

It’s not clear why public schools have been able to hire teachers with stronger academic records.

Education Realist critiques a lack of quality in teacher quality reports.

Education’s culture clash

The school reform debate reaches its peak of vitriol when it turns to teachers unions and “corporate reformers,” writes Steven Hodas on The Lens. This reflects a culture clash, he argues, citing his experience in New York City.

Urban school systems  — like other municipal departments — “drew employees largely from blue-collar urban ethnic populations seeking entry into the middle class,” he writes. The work culture valued apprenticeship in the craft, “personal relationships gained through immersion and tenure in the workplace, and an acute awareness of chain of command and workplace rules.”

 The techniques of day-to-day practice (on a job site, at a fire, in the classroom) were largely unwritten . . . The centers of gravity and legitimacy were situated with the front-line workers themselves, and only those managers who had risen through the ranks of successive apprenticeship had legitimized authority.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein brought in a “white-collar, managerially focused culture” that sees seniority and experience as suspect. “Personal loyalties and obligations . . . are not assets but liabilities to org chart-style managers.” Klein created new career routes “that explicitly sought to route around the traditional pathways of apprenticeship,” writes Hodas.

For the first time, significant numbers of teachers, principals, and district personnel were recruited from elite institutions, not for lifelong careers but for stints of indeterminate duration. Now, principals need not to have spent long periods in the classroom or serving apprenticeships as assistant principals. Central office administrators increasingly drew from the ranks of those who had (or could have had) lucrative professional careers elsewhere and would never before have considered service within one of the nation’s most notorious bureaucracies.

The two cultures — blue-collar and white-collar — mistrusted and misunderstood each other, writes Hodas. “White-collar managers saw themselves as missionary and insurgent, their nominal authority threatened and undermined at every turn by aboriginal cultures of practice. Where they found strongholds they dismantled them, most significantly in the community school districts and in the central Division of Teaching and Learning (headed at the time by Carmen Farina, now de Blasio’s Chancellor and settling scores). “