Teacher Quality and Preparation

Troubling & Promising Findings in NCTQ Scan of State Teacher Eval Policies

November 4, 2013
Of the 40 states and D.C. that require student achievement as a factor in teacher evaluation, fewer than half have an explicit policy for using student achievement measures to evaluate teachers of untested grades and subjects, according to a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. That includes, in most cases, PreK-3rd grade teachers.

Pre-K is Win-Win, Concludes a New Report

October 23, 2013

Early education is one of the most powerful ways to close the achievement gap between low-income and minority children and their more-advantaged peers. But all too often, pre-K advocates cite the same, decades-old research studies – the Abecedarian Project and the HighScope Perry Preschool Study, in particular – to prove the value of high-quality programs. A new report, Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education, published by the Society for Research in Child Development and the Foundation for Child Development earlier this month, offers an updated view of the research, and a path forward for scaled-up pre-K programs.

Researchers were on hand for an event at the New America Foundation last week to answer some questions (click here for the event video, or here to see a Storify summary of the Twitter conversation). Here are the report’s headline findings:

Can New Accreditation Standards Improve Teacher Preparation?

October 22, 2013

Teacher preparation programs have come under fire in recent years for poorly preparing new teachers to meet the needs of today’s students and the demands of education reforms. Most recently, the National Council on Teacher Quality released its survey of about 1,200 prep programs. (Spoiler alert: Only four programs made the top tier.)

What to Think About the DC IMPACT Study

October 17, 2013
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Few teacher evaluation reforms have been as contentious as the IMPACT system in D.C. Public Schools. But a new study published by Thomas Dee and James Wyckoff provides the first empirical evidence that the controversial policy could be encouraging effective teachers to stay in the classroom – and improve their practice.

Dee and Wyckoff examined teachers that scored on the cusp of various IMPACT performance levels– namely, teachers just above and just below the cutoff for effective and highly effective (HE) ratings. The idea is that teachers near the cut points share similar characteristics, regardless of their final rating. By examining these teachers’ outcomes in subsequent years, researchers can isolate the effect of IMPACT’s incentives on teacher behavior. Do teachers that barely receive a HE rating fare differently than those that just missed the distinction? And do minimally effective (ME) teachers close to the effective cut point respond differently than teachers who barely cleared the effective hurdle?

Turns out, they do. The incentive structure within IMPACT had significant effects on retention and performance, particularly after the second year of implementation (2010-11) when IMPACT gained credibility. At that time, teachers with two ME ratings became eligible for termination and those with two HE ratings earned permanent salary increases, not just bonuses. Teachers that received their first ME rating after the 2010-11 year were significantly more likely to leave DCPS (over 10 percentage points) than teachers that scored just above the cut point. Further, the threat of dismissal improved the performance of ME teachers that chose to stay for the 2011-12 year – their scores improved by 12.6 IMPACT points compared to teachers that just received an effective rating, an increase of five percentile points. Similar effects were seen for teachers that could become eligible for increases in their base pay if they remained HE – their 2011-12 IMPACT scores improved by nearly 11 points compared to teachers that missed the HE cutoff, an increase of seven percentile points.

So what do these results tell us about IMPACT and teacher evaluation reform overall? Is this a moment for cautious – or all-out – optimism?

1. Evaluation systems like IMPACT don’t necessarily improve the performance of teachers across the effectiveness spectrum.  That’s because Dee and Wyckoff only examined a narrow band of DCPS teachers: those scoring right at the cut points between ratings. These teachers are the most likely to be influenced by the incentives built into IMPACT – say, when the ratings affect job security. Instead, the research demonstrates the effect of certain incentives, on a certain group of teachers. Those incentives worked –and worked well – but we still don’t know how the performance of most teachers changed in response to the new evaluation system.

2. That said, the research is rigorous, and the results are encouraging. There is evidence that the district’s teacher workforce improved overall. Some ME teachers voluntarily chose to leave DCPS, and the newly hired teachers that replaced them in the 2011-12 year had higher IMPACT scores, on average. And there is no evidence that highly effective teachers were pushed out of the system by IMPACT. Further, many ME and HE teachers tended to improve on IMPACT when they remained with DCPS.

However, more research is needed to determine what interventions were most effective in helping these teachers improve – and to determine whether other teachers (not just those near the cut points) saw similar outcomes. Evaluation systems must define what effective teaching is, and also provide the knowledge and support for teachers to meet these expectations. We know far more about identifying effective teachers than we know about what to do next.

Of course, that brings up another important caveat: improvements in performance here are measured based on changes in IMPACT scores. The authors don’t link these results to student learning explicitly – another area for future research.

3. Finally, while the results are positive and provide some of the best evidence to date on the success of IMPACT, the research may not be widely applicable to other districts and states. IMPACT and DCPS remain outliers in many respects:

  • IMPACT uses value-added data to measure an individual teachers’ contribution to student learning, which many evaluation systems have eschewed.
  • IMPACT includes not one, not two, but five observations of classroom practice over the course of the year. Further, two of these observations are conducted by master educators, rather than school principals. Hiring and training objective observers takes time, capacity, and resources that many states and districts do not have – or are unwilling to dedicate – for evaluation.
  • IMPACT’s improvement and incentive structures are also well-developed and supported. DCPS has made a concerted effort to improve the quality of its coaching and professional development and link it to IMPACT. Further, the bonuses and salary increases for highly effective teachers are substantial, thanks in part to foundation funding. While this external support may raise questions of sustainability, these incentives have been institutionalized in the district’s contract with the Washington Teachers Union.
  • In a way, IMPACT operates at both a state- and district-level. Some of the lessons learned from IMPACT may not be applicable in states, which face additional layers of governance and greater heterogeneity. On the flip side, IMPACT may not be a model for other districts, where administrators could have less autonomy to develop, implement, and revise evaluation systems.

In other words, the results from D.C. are encouraging, but there is still much to learn. More worrisome, as teacher evaluation reform takes hold across the country as part of Race to the Top and states’ ESEA waiver plans, these positive results may prove to be a one-off. IMPACT is as rigorous and comprehensive as teacher evaluation systems get – especially compared to the rudimentary, half-baked, and vague evaluation systems described in many states’ waiver requests. While it is important for states to follow through with their promises to implement new evaluation systems, the quality of this implementation should be of equal – or even greater – concern to policymakers, educators, and advocates moving forward. 

New Report Highlights Top Teachers’ Views on Education Policy

September 18, 2013

“Good teaching is hard to define, even for the profession’s most successful and reflective members.” So says a new report from The New Teacher Project (TNTP) that compiles highly effective teachers’ voices on issues ranging from their profession to hotbed education policy topics.

Child Care Workforce Lacking in Opportunities

September 11, 2013

Federal data suggest that in 2010, the nation’s nearly 1.3 million child care workers earned an average of around $9.28 per hour, or $19,300 per year. The lowest-paid 10 percent of workers earned less than $7.65 per hour. With statistics like that, it’s no wonder studies have found that child care workers leave the profession at high rates -- according to one study, more than half of teachers who left the centers at which they worked actually left the occupation entirely.

PreK-3rd Grade Work Elevated in New Round of Race to the top – ELC

September 3, 2013

Last week, the US Departments of Education and Health and Human Services released the application for the next round of the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge program. This new round includes a notable change: implementing PreK-3rd grade approaches to sustain gains made in preschool programs has been elevated to a competitive priority.

Three States with NCLB Waivers Slow to Make Student Growth Part of Teacher Evaluation Ratings

August 22, 2013

Last week, officials at the U.S. Department of Education put three states’ No Child Left Behind waivers on high-risk status – Kansas, Oregon, and Washington – for not following through on their teacher evaluation reform promises. Specifically, these states have delayed making student growth a significant factor in teacher evaluation.

How Well are Today’s Teachers Prepared for the Classroom?

August 16, 2013

This summer, the National Council on Teacher Quality released its first Teacher Prep Review, finding that many preparation programs poorly equip prospective teachers to meet the needs of today’s students. In fact, only four of the 1,200 undergraduate and graduate programs reviewed earned a spot on the “Dean’s List,” meaning they received four out of four stars.

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