Learn About: 21st Century | Charter Schools | Homework
Home / Edifier


The EDifier

January 17, 2017

How schools hire teachers

Much attention has been paid recently to teacher shortages.  However, less attention has been paid to how schools hire teachers, which has a direct impact on the shortage issue (which varies by subject and region).  Ineffective teachers are more likely to leave, as are those who don’t “fit” well with the culture or demographic of the school.  This, of course, makes sense – people don’t typically want to stay in jobs they’re horrible at, especially ones that are high-stress and low-pay.  There are lots of other reasons teachers leave, but principals don’t typically have a lot of influence over employees needing more time for family, a job closer to home, or higher salaries.  Teachers’ satisfaction with their work environment and school leadership is paramount to their retention, as well, but today we’ll just focus on who gets hired.  Previous research has shown that principals and other hiring managers tend to hire teachers based on their relational skills – motivation, honesty, enthusiasm, and caring – over their track record for student achievement.

As a personal anecdote, I was hired as a teacher by three different schools in two Texas districts. I never had to provide a sample lesson plan, teach a sample lesson, provide prior test scores, or provide prior evaluations. It’s possible that they checked my references, but I’m not sure. I was certified for the grades and subject areas I was hired to teach, which are often hard to staff, and was willing to teach in high-poverty schools, so maybe the lack of data-collection was due to teacher demand being higher than the supply of qualified teachers.

Image result for teacher hiring

A recent study shows that my experience is not unique.  The researchers performed interviews with principals and school administrators in six large public districts and two smaller charter districts to determine how data was used.  About 70 percent of the principals reported using teachers’ previous observation or test score data when determining whether or not to hire teachers who might transfer into their campus from elsewhere in the district.  This seems to point toward a trend in which principals increasingly use data; previous studies showed that only 40 percent of principals used student achievement data in hiring decisions.  As more states and districts develop teacher evaluation systems, we may see this trend continue upward.  Performance-based assessments are even less commonly used.  The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, found that only 13 percent of surveyed school districts required teachers to teach a sample lesson with students.

You may be asking why 100 percent of principals aren’t using data, and I’d have to answer that there are multiple reasons.  First, in most teacher evaluation systems in which a teacher is observed by a school administrator, over 90 percent of teachers are typically found to be effective or highly effective.  The lack of distinctions and the subjectivity of these evaluations render them virtually meaningless in the hiring process.  While principals may look negatively on someone falling below this threshold, they may also balance this data with personal recommendations or personal experience with the subjectivity of the evaluation system.  They may also have limited options for qualified candidates to hire.

Even value-added models, often used as components of teacher evaluations systems, are not fully reliable.  Teacher scores may change from one year to the next, or from one test to another.  If principals are aware of the shortcomings of the testing system, they may be hesitant to rely on it for hiring. Many subjects are not tested on an annual basis, making it difficult to use related data for hiring teachers who don’t teach math and language arts.

Finally, teacher observations are often biased against teachers in high-poverty and high-minority schools, as well as against men.  Given that high-poverty, high-minority schools are also the most difficult to staff, it makes sense that principals might take prior evaluation scores for teachers who have taught at other high-needs schools with a grain of salt.

While data on teacher effectiveness may be flawed, it doesn’t mean that we should throw it out entirely.  If a teacher consistently has low scores or has bounced between schools due to ineffective ratings, principals would be wise to heed this information.  We can use data to weed out some bad apples; we can’t necessarily depend on it to be 100 percent accurate or predict success.






February 19, 2015

A matter of principal

After a conversation with CPE’s senior policy analyst Jim Hull last week in which Jim helped explain to issues of accountability, the conversation segued onto the topic of school principals and the powerful role they play in public education. Apparently, Jim is not the only one who believes that principals are key players in student success.

In a recent piece by Real Clear Education, graduate training programs designed for principals should foster a more practical skillset. The report goes on to suggest that incorporating disciplines such as business administration, could provide principals with the training for activities that are actually practiced on the job. A caveat however, the report also makes it very clear that they are not advocating for schools to be run like automated businesses either. That being said, there are still numerous leadership skills taught within an MBA program that fall directly within (or should) the purview of a principal, such as budgeting, data analysis, talent and quality management, organizational change, and leadership.

One thing is clear; good principals are essential for school success. As mirrored in a report by CPE, The Principal Perspective, high-quality principal leadership can facilitate numerous beneficial school outcomes, such as increasing student achievement, reducing both student and teacher absences, and reducing the turnover of high-quality teachers. Additionally, principals can be the linchpins in school turnaround. When a new principal is introduced into a school challenged by low student achievement, one of the first tasks an effective leader would undertake would be to assess the quality of the teachers, in an attempt to replace the lowest-quality teachers and retain the highest-quality teachers. These recruitment skills could be fostered through training in talent management, whereas retainment skills are taught through quality management, both skillsets that are central in an MBA program. Furthermore, our report found that principals were most effective at the earlier grades (i.e., elementary school), with an effect that diminishes across middle and high school. A plausible rationale for this decreasing effect is that as the structure of the school expands, it becomes more difficult to organize and govern. One way to address this downfall however, could be to incorporate leadership into principal training so that principals are better prepared to handle larger systems producing just as strong effects as elementary leaders.

In summary, the pieces by Real Clear Education and CPE share a common theme: principals matter. Although individual principals are not making broad changes at the state or federal level, they are poised to have (and sustain) incredible impact locally. It is because of their unique position that they play such an important role in increasing school outcomes. Thus, ensuring that principals are provided with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in effective school leadership certainly seems like a good principle.






December 19, 2014

The ROI of five ed reforms, according to Forbes

Many have tried to quantify the value of education— in fact, even we did in our video, Is it Worth It? But calculating what we get versus what we spend on public education is far from an easy exercise, as there are so many variables and value judgments that come into play.

Enter Forbes magazine, which attempted to determine what would happen if education policymakers put their money where their mouth is in five key areas: implementing the Common Core State Standards, strengthening teacher effectiveness and principal development, and expanding early education and blended learning.

Each comes with a hefty price tag that taken together would cost a cool $6.2 trillion over a 20 year period or $310 billion annually. In return, Forbes (with assistance from respected Stanford economist Eric Hanushek) predicts the U.S. would see its gross domestic product increase by some $225 trillion over the life of that generation’s professional career.

Where the initial outlay would come from— apparently hedge funds, inheritances and venture capital— is another story. What caught my attention about this study appeared to be a credible attempt to affix real dollars and cents to top education reforms and the benefits our country would reap from it.  Even if it’s hypothetical, a nearly 37 percent return on five major education investments is not something to ignore … though, apparently we have.






June 19, 2013

NCTQ Teacher Prep Review: Brief Highlights

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) recently released a lengthy report called “Teacher Prep Review: A Review of the Nation’s Teacher Preparation Programs” (“The Review”). The much anticipated and highly contested report highlights the shortfalls of the vast majority of the nation’s colleges and universities’ teacher preparation programs. The report sounds the alarm on inadequate training for teachers, particularly focusing on what aspiring teachers need to know and be able to do as they enter the nation’s diverse classrooms.

Through much difficulty (read: uncooperative and litigious circumstances), the NCTQ attained data from the 1,130 institutions that train 99 percent of the nation’s traditionally trained teachers. The Review focuses vastly on public institutions and hopes to expand its analysis to include more private universities in subsequent editions. The standards chosen for the review were developed in accordance with educational experts, best practices of high performing educational institutions, surveyed responses from principals and superintendents, and alignment with the Common Core State Standards. The Review focuses on the skills new teachers must have in order to teach to a high standard, thus surpassing expectations set for previous generations of educators. The NCTQ standards are generally categorized as Selection (e.g., how teacher candidates are selected for training programs), Content Preparation (e.g., early reading), Professional Skills (e.g., lesson planning), and Outcomes (e.g., evidence of effectiveness).

The major takeaways from the report are as follows:

  1. From a zero-to-four star rating system, fewer than 10 percent of rated programs received the upper rankings of three to four stars.
    1. Teacher training programs were largely based on document review (e.g., syllabi, student teaching handbooks, etc.), graduate and employer surveys, and student teaching placement materials obtained primarily through open-records requests.
  2. Most teachers’ colleges are not nearly as restrictive as they could be with only a quarter of programs limiting admission to students in the top half of their class.
    1. According to The Review, high-performing nations limit entrance to their teacher preparation programs to the top third of applicants. This variance could have significant consequences on how the U.S. fares globally in educational success.
  3. Though the vast majority of states (46 states and Washington, DC) have agreed to devise curriculum aligning to the Common Core State Standards, The Review finds that a meager one-third of high school programs and less than one-ninth of elementary programs are prepping future teachers at content levels required by those very standards.
    1. This information aligns with the findings highlighted in a recent report co-authored by the Center for Public Education and Change the Equation: “Out of Sync: Many Common Core states have yet to define a Common Core-worthy diploma.”
  4. Seventy-five percent of elementary teacher reading programs do not prime teachers with high-quality methods of reading instruction.
    1. The Review highlights the disturbing fact that 866 different reading textbooks, “the majority of which are partly or wholly unscientific,” are used across the country to train teachers in reading instruction. Not all textbooks are created equal! Texts need to be thoroughly vetted for their usefulness in providing first-rate reading pedagogy.
  5. A dismal 7 percent of programs provide rigorous and impactful student teaching experiences by placing students with effective master teachers.
    1. The Review recommends a shift in policy wherein colleges and universities insist on cooperating teachers who have proven themselves as highly effective teachers and competent mentors. In other words, it is not sufficient to blindly accept any experienced educator who volunteers for this monumental role in the development of a budding teacher.

Mirroring the U.S. News & World Report national rankings of colleges and universities, The
Review aims to serve as a kind of “consumer report” for endeavoring teachers and school administrators. Because first-year teachers are charged with teaching 1.5 million of the nation’s students, that is more than enough reason to take seriously the quality of teacher preparation and its implications on classrooms all over the country.

Notes on methodology: The Review evaluates elementary and secondary programs at both undergraduate and graduate levels (for a total of four different programs) for the top 200 institutions that produce the greatest proportion of new teachers each year. The remaining ~900 institutions (1,130 total were reviewed) each had two of their programs randomly chosen and evaluated. Data from alternative initial certification programs, traditional advanced certification programs, and private institutions of higher education graduating less than 20 new teachers annually were not included in the analysis. NCTQ was able to include a limited sample of special education programs for evaluation with plans to expand their analysis in future editions of The Review.

Thoughts: To be sure, there are a plethora of positive changes being affected nationwide in public education. (For a great example, read about the nation’s consistently climbing graduation rates courtesy of the Diplomas Count Report from Education Week.) The Review, however, highlights some serious causes for concern that might explain why some students still lag so far behind their peers nationwide. Students in high-poverty, high-need schools are still the most likely cohort to be placed with a novice teacher. It is my hope that, at a minimum, this report be used by college faculty, staff, and administration as a tool for reflection, adjustment, and (re)evaluation of how to train the next generation of teachers to be the best this country has ever seen.-Christine Duchouquette






May 23, 2013

Parent Trigger Laws are likely to fire blanks

If turning around a persistently low-performing school were easy, we would not have persistently low-performing schools.  In truth, schools that languish at the academic bottom are more often an ongoing source of frustration for the hard-working teachers, parents and students who attend them and the districts that manage them.  Yet new laws that give parents the power to take charge of their failing neighborhood school seem to suggest that climbing out of this hole is as simple as swapping the old model out for a new one.  It’s not.

So-called Parent Trigger Laws have been enacted in seven states and are being considered in at least a dozen more.  The laws grant parents the authority to force a school takeover providing the school is low-performing and a majority of parents agree to the takeover in writing. The laws enjoy wide appeal. According to the most recent Kappan/Gallup poll (2012), 70 percent of the general public and 76 percent of public school parents favor “allowing parents to petition to remove the leadership and staff at failing schools.”

Look, I’m a big supporter of efforts to strengthen parents’ voices in public education, especially among those who feel powerless. I know that change works best when all families, not just a vocal few, are meaningful partners alongside their schools and district leadership.

The authors of Parent Trigger Laws will say their intent is to empower parents. But, as with so many things, good intentions alone do not translate into good actions. There are two big problems with the laws. One, they supercede rather than facilitate school district-parent partnerships, even though collaboration is key to investing the school community in student success.  Then having put parents in charge, the laws give them inadequate tools that are not up to the task of effecting change.

While state laws vary, they all specify a limited number of strategies that parents must choose from in order to reform their low-performing school once they pull the trigger. Each of the seven states with current laws includes turning the school over to a charter operator as one option. Other states also have options for vouchers, school closure, replacing the staff and/or the principal. Only Ohio offers parents more than three options.

If you’re feeling déjà vu, you’re not alone. These “reform” strategies are embedded in NCLB, Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants (SIG).  A major difference is that these federal policies also have a provision that offers a little more wiggle room so those on the ground are better able to craft improvement plans specific to their unique situations. The “transformation” model still requires schools to replace the principal. But once that’s done, they have multiple options for developing a reform plan more tailored to local needs that includes such things as professional development, rigorous curriculum, new schedules, and many others.  Not surprisingly, the transformation model is the one most often pursued by turnaround schools, including a full three-quarters of SIG recipients.

Parent Trigger Laws don’t have any flexibility. And this is what we know about the options parents are given: they are far from proven strategies. The best you can say is that the evidence is mixed.

For example, we know that about only one in five charter schools outperforms its traditional counterpart. Newer research shows that schools managed by established Charter Management Organizations have a slightly better track record than independently run charters, but still not significantly different from traditional schools.

Closing a school or replacing the staff aren’t surefire solutions either. Plus many communities either don’t have other schools to send students to or enough qualified candidates to recruit as replacements.

New leadership is the one exception that shows promise as a strategy, but again, only if the situation warrants a change. Principals are second only to teachers in their impact on student learning. Good leaders set the tone for the school and can create supportive environments for teachers and students alike. But note that even experienced principals may take as long as three to five years to become effective in their new role.

Clearly, we can’t tolerate sending children to failing schools. But we also need to recognize that turning around such a school can be hard, messy and will likely look different in different places.  Parents are an important part of this work, including demanding action when it’s called for. But it also takes teachers, supportive administrators, engaged leadership and yes, resources. Parent Trigger Laws can pretend that a petition and pre-fab solutions are enough. But they are no replacement for good communication; a well-researched, customized plan; a relentless focus on improvement; and strong collaboration between schools, districts and parents.

This entry also appeared in the Huffington Post.






Older Posts »
RSS Feed