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July 1, 2014

When teacher tenure is denied

Denied Teacher tenure has been a hot topic lately, thanks to the Vergara decision a couple weeks ago in California that found the state’s teacher tenure laws were unconstitutional. As I wrote at the time, the decision is unlikely to spur a wave of similar lawsuits across the country, in large part, because many states have or are in the process of revising their tenure laws to incorporate measures of teacher effectiveness when granting tenure—-unlike in California. Many critics of teacher tenure hailed the decision believing it will now be easier to remove ineffective teachers.

However, simply removing ineffective teachers will not positively impact student achievement if those teachers aren’t replaced by more effective teachers. Recent reports from the CALDER Center at the American Institutes of Research (AIR) shed an all too important light on this question. One such report on New York City found teachers were only slightly more likely to be denied tenure after the city revamped their tenure process following the 2008-09 school year—an increase from a 2 to 3 percent denial rate. Yet, the rate at which teachers were approved for tenure declined dramatically because many more teachers had their probationary period extended instead of having their tenure denied or approved. Prior to the tenure reforms, 94 percent of eligible teachers had their tenure approved. Following the tenure reforms, that rate dipped to just 56 percent.

While New York City’s new tenure law did not force ineffective teachers to leave the classroom, many chose to leave on their own. The CALDER report found teachers who had their probationary period extended were 50 percent more likely to transfer to another school and 66 percent more likely to exit the system compared with teachers in the same school who were approved for tenure.

While critics of teacher tenure would hold this finding up as a success of tenure reform, it would in fact be a failure if ineffective teachers simply replaced the departing ones. Luckily for the students this is not what has happened in New York City. The teachers who had their probationary period extended and then left the school were on-average less effective than the teachers who replaced them in terms of both value-added scores and principal ratings. And the differences in effectiveness was fairly substantial as well.

If these trends continue students in New York City will be much less likely to be taught by an ineffective teacher as less effective teachers leave the profession while being replaced by more effective teachers. As previous research has shown, this can have a substantial impact on student achievement but such an impact will not happen over night. As effectiveness data comes in from states across the country that have implemented more accurate teacher evaluation systems, it is clear there isn’t a large proportion of consistently ineffective teachers that should be removed from the classroom. In fact, the vast majority of teachers are quite good so the focus should be on improving the performance of all teachers. Such focus will likely have a significant impact on student achievement as well. Yet, removing consistently ineffective teachers shouldn’t be ignored either. Even if just a small proportion of ineffective teachers left the profession each year and are replaced by more effective teachers, over time the impact would compound, such that students 10 years from now would be much less likely to be taught by an ineffective teacher than a student today.

Reforming teacher tenure laws and creating more accurate teacher evaluation systems have the potential to improve the overall effectiveness of teachers– if done correctly– but such impacts will not happen overnight. It will take time to make a significant impact on the overall effective of our teachers but it will likely have a tremendous impact on the achievement of those students who are just entering our public schools. – Jim Hull






June 11, 2014

CPE’s latest report explores mayoral involvement in urban schools

CPE_MayoralControl_Slider Few would disagree that the future prosperity of cities are linked to the current performance of schools. It’s no doubt what has compelled many a mayor to take control of city schools, especially ones that are troubled and low performing. But do urban schools benefit under a mayoral governance model? Is student achievement higher in urban systems led by school boards or city mayors? What happens to community involvement in either arrangement? These were the questions CPE set out to discover in its latest report, Toward Collaboration, Not a Coup. As you can likely tell from the title, we concluded more could be achieved if the two offices worked together than apart. To find out how we got there, though, you’ll have to read the report.






April 2, 2014

The role of technology in early education

toddlertabletAs technology becomes an increasingly important and ever present part of our lives, many are starting to ask what the appropriate role of technology is in the lives of young children.  While some parents and child advocates are concerned about possible negative impacts of excessive “screen time” for children, others believe that appropriately used digital media has the ability to help children learn in new ways and prepare them for a lifetime of learning. A recent brief from the New America Foundation proposes several essential actions to prepare early education for the digital age.

There are three important characteristics that must be taken into consideration when deciding the appropriate role of digital media in a child’s education: the content, the context, and the characteristics of the child.  Passive use of digital media or allowing children to watch adult-oriented TV shows can have negative consequences, but when the context and content are aligned to meet the needs of an individual child, interactive media can be used to promote learning and exploration, even for very young children.

There is enormous potential for technology use in early education, but expectations need to be set high and technology needs to be used as a supplement to, not in place of active play and exploration. We need to retire the harmful idea of “technology as a babysitter” and instead see it as something that can productively promote back-and-forth interaction between children and their parents, teachers, and classmates.

This can take many forms: reading an ebook with a classmate, video chatting with a relative who lives far away, or using a math app to practice counting skills while a teacher supervises. If technology is integrated into learning activities both at home and at school, children start building skills at a very young age that prepare them for a future as a student and citizen in the digital age. However, as with many of the issues we discuss here, the risk lies in poor implementation.

We can give toddlers tablets, but unless they have parents and teachers engaging with them to ensure the media they are consuming is developmentally appropriate and substantive, we might just be providing preschoolers with very expensive playthings (and veering into that “technology as babysitter” territory). As the role of technology in our society continues to evolve, I am hopeful that networks of parents, teachers, providers of children’s media, and other professionals who work with young children will work together to share information and high-quality materials.






March 20, 2014

Could math be the key to successful prekindergarten?

apple_and_slateboardPrekindergarten has been a hot topic in education for some time now, and with the White House proposing $1.3 billion for Preschool for All grants in the 2015 budget, it is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Various studies have shown the long-term benefits that pre-K can have for children, especially those from low- and moderate-income families. However, many of the studies we continue to cite today as evidence of pre-K’s effectiveness (such as the HighScope Perry Preschool and the Abecedarian Project) are decades old and focus on extremely small and intensive programs. Although these programs clearly illustrate the positive impacts that high-quality prekindergarten can have on children well into the future, they do not single out specific elements made these programs successful.  Furthermore, programs such as these would not be scalable today with how rapidly pre-K programs are expanding in many states.

A new study starting in New York this year hopes to determine what factors contribute to high-quality pre-K programs. “Making Pre-K Count” is following approximately 4,000 prekindergarten students at 69 different school sites throughout New York City and will continue to follow them at least through third grade. Half of the students will be taught using a math curriculum called Building Blocks, which has shown in short-term studies to improve the math and verbal skills of young children. Math is not something that is traditionally emphasized in prekindergarten classes, but some research indicates that developing math skills early can predict math and reading achievement well into elementary school, as well as help students learn to persevere academically. Children who maintain these early math skills are also more likely to graduate from high school and pursue a postsecondary education. There is also a professional development piece to the Building Blocks curriculum, with teaching coaches visiting prekindergarten classes weekly to help teachers implement the curriculum and advise them on the use of formative assessments

While we know there are benefits to high-quality prekindergarten, there has been much debate recently about what “high-quality” actually means.  The rapid expansion of pre-K programs throughout the country makes more up to date research on what types of programs are effective a necessity. A study like Making Pre-K Count will surely be expensive and time consuming, but has the potential to lead to some real breakthroughs on what an effective, scalable prekindergarten model looks like in the 21st century.

For more information about the impact high quality prekindergarten can have on students check out CPE’s Pre-K research here.

-Patricia Campbell

Filed under: CPE,Pre-k,research — Tags: , — Patricia Campbell @ 1:16 pm





October 24, 2013

New report shows states compare favorably to other countries in math and science

Results from a new study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) at the U.S. Department of Education has found the vast majority of states score above the international average in 8th grade math and science. Although U.S. eighth-graders compared relatively well to their peers in other countries in math, the comparison was even more favorable in science, where just three states scored below the international average. However, the average 8th-grader in most states has obtained a basic knowledge and understanding of both math and science and can demonstrate it in a variety of practical situations.

But the study also highlights the fact that there is a huge variation in student performance across states. While there are a number of states that compare more favorably to the highest performing countries in the world, there are other states whose performance matches the performance of developing countries. For students in all states to have a chance to compete in the ever growing global labor market they, at the very least, must possess basic math and science skills.

Here’s what the study found:

     Mathematics

  • Over two-thirds (36) of states’ average score were significantly above the international average of 500.
    •  Six states (West Virginia (492), Oklahoma (491), Tennessee (490), DC (481), Mississippi (476), and Alabama (466) scored significantly below the international average.  These scores are similar to those of New Zealand (488), Kazakhstan (487), Sweden (484) and Armenia (467) among others.
  • Massachusetts was the highest scoring U.S. state (561 points) and outperformed all but five of 47 countries as well.
    • Massachusetts was outperformed by Korea (613), Singapore (611), Hong Kong (586), and Japan (570).
  • Nearly a two-third of U.S. states performed as well as or better than the traditionally high performing country of Finland (514).
  • Alabama was the only state whose average score (466) fell within the TIMSS Low benchmark (400-474), an indicator of whether a student possesses knowledge of whole numbers and decimals, operations, and basic graphs.
    • On the other end of the spectrum, Massachusetts was the only state to score above the TIMSS High benchmark (550) which indicates that students can apply their understanding and knowledge in variety of relatively complex situations.
    • The remaining 50 states’ average score fell within the Intermediate benchmark (475-549) which indicates a student can apply basic mathematical knowledge in a variety of situations.

Science

  • Nearly every state (47) performed above the international average of 500 while two states (Arizona and California) did not perform significantly different than the international average.
    • Mississippi (486), Alabama (485) and DC (453) scored significantly below the international average. These scores are similar to those of Kazakhstan (490), Turkey (483) and Iran (474), among others.
  • Massachusetts (567) and Vermont (561) were the highest scoring U.S. states and performed as well or better than every country except Singapore (590).
    • Massachusetts and Vermont performed as well as Chinese Taipei (564), Korea (560), and Japan (558) and outperformed such countries as Finland (552), Hong Kong (535) and England (533).
  • The District of Columbia was the only place where students’ average scores did feell within the TIMSS Low benchmark (400-474) which indicates whether a student has a grasp of elementary knowledge of life, physical, and earth sciences.
    • On the other end of the spectrum, eight states (Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin) scored above the TIMSS High benchmark (550), which indicates whether students can apply their knowledge and understanding of the sciences to explain phenomena in everyday and abstract context.
    • The remaining 43 states’ average score fell within in the Intermediate benchmark (475-549), indicating students have basic knowledge and understanding of practical situations in the sciences.  – Jim Hull





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