Teachers

Over the years, students have resorted to all kinds of chicanery as a means of concealing bad grades from their parents. Intercepting report cards in the mail has long been a reliable standby, along with the artful application of X-Acto knives, whiteout, and copy machines. But major publishers are soon going to have to unearth some new methods to screen their own poor performance from concerned eyes: EdReports, which tests the putative alignment of instructional materials to the Common Core standards, released a new round of textbook assessments last week, and the results are too putrid to hide. The organization found that four textbook series released by McGraw-Hill, the Center for Mathematics and Teaching, and the College Board only intermittently met its expectations for alignment with the standards. It’s hardly a surprising revelation, given the abysmal record of industry leaders when it comes to producing materials of rigor and coherence. The only question now is how soon presidential candidates will start blaming Common Core itself for the mess.

As the Republican field has narrowed, we bade a fond “Don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya” to former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal....

New York State education officials raised a ruckus two weeks ago when they announced that annual statewide reading and math tests, administered in grades 3–8, would no longer be timed. The New York Post quickly blasted the move as “lunacy” in an editorial. “Nowhere in the world do standardized exams come without time limits,” the paper thundered. “Without time limits, they’re a far less accurate measure.” Eva S. Moskowitz, founder of the Success Academy charter schools had a similar reaction. “I don’t even know how you administer a test like that,” she told the New York Times

I’ll confess that my initial reaction was not very different. Intuitively, testing conditions would seem to have a direct impact on validity. If you test Usain Bolt and me on our ability to run one hundred meters, I might finish faster if I’m on flat ground and the world record holder is forced to run up a very steep incline. But that doesn’t make me Usain Bolt’s equal. By abolishing time limits, it seemed New York was seeking to game the results, giving every student a “special education accommodation” with extended time for testing. 

But after reading the research and talking to leading psychometricians, I’ve concluded that both...

  • The best coaches are, at heart, excellent teachers. They have to impart tactics and skills to their players, along with universal values like teamwork, leadership, and effort. The U.S. Soccer Federation acknowledged the necessity of sound teaching when it contacted superstar educator Doug Lemov to help train its youth league coaches. The former teacher and administrator (and college soccer walk-on) gained fame for his meticulous research into the methods of successful instructors, which he has explored in a series of bestselling manuals. Now he’s helping professionals construct drills and improve communication with their young charges. Lemov has written about his fascination with the game before (check out his notes on a practice conducted by European juggernaut Bayern Munich), and we can only hope that his contributions help lift young American athletes higher. Because seriously, there’s something humiliating about losing to Belgium—whether on test scores or the beautiful game.
  • Even if they’re stupefied by the content, history teachers probably long for the inarguable authority of mathematical theories and proofs. With a few exceptions, math and science teachers seldom have to bat away charges of imperialism or cultural misrepresentation. In California, where educators are mulling a newly issued framework for
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A new study out by Tom Dee and his colleagues follows on the heels of a prior evaluation of District of Columbia Public Schools' (DCPS) IMPACT teacher evaluation system, which found largely positive outcomes for the system. This time around, they examined the effects of teacher turnover on student achievement. The new focus is presumably prompted by IMPACT, a multifaceted evaluation system that measures student growth, classroom practice (via observations), and teacher professionalism. Teachers receive scores that range from “ineffective” to “highly effective”; the former are “separated” from the district, while the latter are eligible for one-time bonuses of up to $25,000 and a permanent increase in base pay of up to $27,000 per year.

This evaluation, using data from 2009–10 to 2012–13, covers 103 schools between grades four and eight. It examines achievement at the school level, and then the grade level, for particular years. Analysts examine whether teacher effectiveness and achievement are higher or lower as a result of teachers exiting and entering the system.

The evaluation is a well-designed, quasi-experimental study, so it’s not causal in nature. But like any good analysts, the authors subject their data to a number of checks for “robustness” to rule out...

Full disclosure: I worked briefly (and happily) for Ed Boland, the author of The Battle for Room 314, after leaving my South Bronx classroom. He is a longtime senior executive with Prep for Prep, a heralded nonprofit that seeks out talented students of color in New York City’s public school system, grooms them for placement in elite private schools, and shepherds them into the best colleges in the nation. It’s the closest thing in education to finding a life-changing golden ticket in a Wonka bar.

Beset by a “nagging feeling that the program, as worthy as it was, just wasn’t reaching enough kids or the ones who needed the most help,” Boland starts to wonder if he’d missed his true calling. Raised in a Catholic family of teachers and do-gooders, he sets his mind (and resets his household budget) on becoming a New York City public school teacher. First he works nights and weekends to get his teaching degree. Then he quits his job hobnobbing with the city’s elite and trades his “comfy bourgeois life,” for a job teaching ninth-grade history at “Union Street School.”

To say it didn’t go well would be an understatement. Chantay climbs on her desk and...

A new CALDER study examines whether student-teaching experience affects both later teaching effectiveness and the likelihood of leaving the profession.

Dan Goldhaber and colleagues analyzed data from six university-based teacher education programs in Washington State that, together, graduate roughly one-third of the state’s teachers. They assembled an impressive data set that included information on teacher candidates’ cooperating or supervising teachers and where their internships or student-teaching occurred; administrative data on race, gender, experience, educational background, and teaching endorsements; and data on the schools in which they were trained and the schools in which they were hired. The sample included individuals who had completed their student-teaching between 1998 and 2010, comprising approximately 8,300 trainees.

Note that (as Goldhaber et al. repeatedly stress) these are descriptive findings, not causal ones, because the analytic models can’t account for the non-random sorting of teachers to schools and teaching positions.

There are three key findings: First, teachers who student-taught in schools with low levels of teacher turnover are less likely to leave teaching.

Second, teachers appear to be more effective when the student demographics at their schools reflect those of the schools in which they student-taught. For example, students in high-poverty schools are predicted to...

  • On the same day that Jeb Bush unveiled his education agenda, thousands of families in his home state marched in Tallahassee to support some of the very school choice programs he championed in office. The first-of-its-kind Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, which helps generate funding for poor children to attend the private schools of their choice, has recently been contested in court by Florida Education Association (the state’s largest teachers’ union). In protest against the lawsuit, swarms of students, parents, and educators from charter schools made their voices heard. The most persuasive speaker of all, however, was none other than Martin Luther King III. “What choice does,” said the son of the civil rights icon, “is essentially create options, particularly for poor and working families that they would not necessarily normally have.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
  • Useful policy ideas don’t spring only from the campaign trail, or from earnest direct action. (To be honest, they almost never come from the campaign trail.) This week, the Council of Chief State School Officers opened an important new front in the war to close America’s skills gap. In partnership with the National Association of State Directors of Career
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  • The ink is dry on the bill, the interest groups are mollified, and the lobbyists have made the first payments on their tastefully appointed condominiums. Now that the Every Student Achieves Act has become the law of the land, it’s time to examine its implications for our federal education bureaucracy. Ace Fordham policy fellow Andy Smarick has identified the shrinking classroom influence of Uncle Sam as the top media takeaway from ESSA’s passage, and there’s no denying that Congress acted decisively to roll back the Department of Education’s Obama-era authority. But just how much has the agency—and John King, who will act as its leader regardless of whether he ever gets a confirmation hearing—seen its prerogatives narrowed? This recap from Education Week offers a good primer, consulting aides from both parties along with education superlawyer Reg Leichty. Shockingly, the sources don’t agree on whether future secretaries of education will be “handcuffed” in their dealings with state accountability schemes. But as Leichty happily observes, those differences in opinion will likely be resolved in the courts.
  • Now that it’s the second week of January, you’ve probably received your W-2 tax form. And as the old saying goes, there are
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Leslie Kan

This week, teachers’ unions continued their battle over mandatory “agency fees” in the Supreme Court case Friedrichs v. California. Union dues cover the costs of lobbying and collective bargaining and are crucial to advocating for employee benefits, including teacher pensions. Add these fees on top of a teacher’s mandatory state pension contributions, though, and it becomes apparent that teachers are spending a substantial chunk of their paychecks on pensions—without receiving much in return.

Take for example, a California teacher’s paycheck. California teachers are required to pay a mandatory state pension contribution of 8.15 percent, soon to rise to either 9.205 or 10.25 percent in the next few years depending on a teacher’s hire date. Alongside pension contributions, teachers contribute a portion of their salary toward union dues. About a third (the amount varies depending on the school district) goes toward political and legislative advocacy. (In 2013, the California Teachers’ Association spent a year of political and legislative action preventing harsher cuts from a recent pension reform law.) The remaining two-thirds of dues, or the mandatory agency fee, covers the cost of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining indirectly impacts pension benefits through negotiations like late-career salary raises that can spike pension benefits for certain teachers. California’s mandatory agency fees make...

A fascinating new study in Education Finance and Policy examines discretionary layoff policies in Charlotte Mecklenburg. In general, there are two non-discretionary, mechanical approaches to reducing the number of school employees. One is seniority-based layoffs: last in, first out (LIFO). There is also an approach known as “inverse student performance”: those with the worst value-added scores are the first to be fired. Neither of these is particularly desirable. In LIFO’s case, the reasons are obvious and legion. And using only value added might result in teachers focusing solely on test scores or in the loss of instructors who fill organizational needs (e.g., teaching specific grade levels or subjects) or otherwise contribute to a school’s educational priorities.

In contrast, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools use a discretionary policy. Candidates for layoffs are identified using a variety of factors, including the lack of formal job qualifications, length of service, and performance as determined by principal evaluations, plus the particular needs and goals of the school. Student test scores are not part of the process. Between 2008 and 2010, the district laid off over a thousand teachers because of the recession. The study’s author, Brown University’s Matthew Kraft, asked two questions: Which teachers actually...

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