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

The EDifier

July 27, 2016

Elementary Teacher Specialization

We have all bemoaned the high rate of teacher turnover in the U.S. and wondered how to increase teacher quality.  Most proposed solutions are costly, though: increased pay, smaller classes, merit-based pay, housing for teachers in urban areas.  The National Center on Education and the Economy released a report last week that examines the training, hiring, and work practices of elementary school teachers in four high-performing nations, with implications for how the U.S. could improve its elementary teacher workforce.  The easiest to implement? Specialization.

Elementary classrooms typically are “self-contained,” meaning that one teacher has the same class of students all day and teaches Reading, Writing, Math, Science, and Social Studies.  However, some schools have a “departmentalized” structure, which looks more like middle school or high school.  Typically, 2-4 teachers will work as a team with the same group of students who rotate through the classes.  This allows teachers to focus their lesson planning on only one or two subjects.


Departmentalized teaching provides multiple benefits:

  1. Reduced workload for teachers, which improves job satisfaction.
  2. Teachers have a deeper knowledge of the subject that they teach, which results in increased confidence and student performance.
  3. Students have the opportunity to know multiple adults and improve their organizational skills.
  4. Teachers collaborate more due to sharing students.

Even if elementary schools are concerned about changing their schedules, they can still ask teachers to specialize in a particular subject, making them the expert on their grade level team.  Doing so would still provide for deeper teacher knowledge and increased collaboration.

As a former teacher who started in a self-contained classroom and then was in a departmentalized structure for two years, I can attest to the shorter work hours, improved student achievement, and stronger collaborations provided by only teaching one or two subjects.  In fact, one of the reasons I left the elementary classroom was because my principal decided to return to self-contained classrooms.  Research tells me I’m not alone.

July 21, 2016

Meet CPE’s new research analyst— Chandi Wagner

HeadshotAs the newest member of the CPE team, I am excited to keep you up to date on the most recent research and education news available.  Hundreds of academics, foundations, and think tanks publish relevant information for school policy makers, and we’re here to dig through it for you.

After working in youth development non-profits (Camp Fire USA and Girl Scouts), I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador.  I taught 3rd, 5th, & 7th grades in the Austin, TX area, working with low-income and bilingual students.  I have the utmost respect for teachers, as they are in the trenches with kids every day.  It is the hardest job I will ever do.

My research experience has focused on education technology, class size, teacher retention, and teacher evaluation.  I was fortunate to study under outstanding professors at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin before joining CPE.  My goal is to provide reliable, unbiased information to help policy makers make the wisest decisions for their schools.

It’s a pleasure to meet you.

-Chandi Wagner                                                                                                                                                               

May 17, 2016

Legislatures address teacher shortages

The Center for Public Education recently released its newest report Fixing the Holes in the Teacher Pipeline: An Overview of Teacher Shortages, which comes at a critical time when many state legislatures, local districts, and other national organizations are focusing on this issue. The report lays out best practices for preparing, recruiting, and retaining quality teachers.

Indiana’s Department of Education yesterday reported that it will be implementing the recommendations by their own Blue Ribbon Commission, many of which align with the CPE’s report including; partnering with Indiana University to address the shortage of special education teachers by increasing the supports given to current and prospective special education teachers; creating a full-time position to increase professional development and networking opportunities for teachers; and hosting the first teacher recruitment conference for students currently in high school (what CPE called “growing your own”).

Nevada is faced with a critical shortage as well. EdWeek has reported that it is using both short-term and long-term strategies such as fast-track teaching certifications, hiring bonuses for working in low-income schools, developing teacher recruiter positions, and working on new contracts which would increase pay for teachers.

For all districts faced with teacher shortage issues, keep in mind the questions CPE suggests asking about your district (listed below). Also, research and I (as a former teacher) agree that although a living wage salary is crucial, teachers most often report leaving a school or the profession due to poor working conditions rather than salary complaints. -Breanna Higgins

Questions for School Boards and District Leaders:

  • Do we have enough teachers? Are there schools or subject areas in the district that are harder to staff than others? Does the demographic make-up of our staff reflect that of our students?
  • Are our teachers qualified? Are all our teachers licensed in the area of their assignment? How many teachers have emergency credentials?
  • Are we able to recruit qualified teachers? How do our salaries compare to neighboring districts? Can we provide incentives in shortage areas? How effective are our induction programs?
  • Do we retain qualified teachers? What is our turnover rate? How does it compare to other districts? Do teachers feel supported in our schools?
  • Can we grow our own? Do we have partnerships with universities? Can we collaborate on recruiting and training qualified candidates in order to maintain a steady supply of good teachers in our schools?
Filed under: Public education,Report Summary,research,School boards,teachers — Breanna Higgins @ 11:59 am

March 4, 2016

Teacher evaluation systems: Major changes, similar results

Since TNTP’s  groundbreaking report, The Widget Effect, was released in 2009, nearly every state has made dramatic changes to the way teachers are evaluated. In that report the authors found less than 1 percent of teachers were rated below proficient, while nearly all other teachers were rated simply as proficient or satisfactory. Just a small proportion of teachers were recognized for being exceptional. Such results didn’t pass the sniff test. As anyone who has ever stepped foot in a classroom knows, there are a number of exceptional teachers as well as a number who just aren’t making the grade. Under previous teacher evaluation systems, few of these teachers were ever identified.

Despite the dramatic changes in evaluation, such as including measures of student achievement, not much has changed, according to a recent report aptly titled Revisiting the Widget Effect. Less than 3 percent of teachers are being rated below proficient. While this is more than 3 times as many teachers than found in the original Widget Effect, it is still an extremely small number.

Of course, it could be claimed that this is because there are so few ineffective teachers and not due to a failure of how teachers are evaluated. Which is a legitimate argument. In fact, this was a question the authors wanted to examine themselves by asking principals in a sample of schools how many of their teachers they felt were below proficient prior to conducting the new evaluation systems. What they found was a huge disconnect between how many teachers principals perceived to be less than proficient (27 percent) and how many teachers actually were rated below proficient (2.7 percent).

So why are so few teachers identified below proficient? Did states expend valuable time and resources simply to rate a few more teachers as ineffective? While the findings from this report are sobering, it provides important insights for policymakers in making changes to the current systems and understanding how the system is really being used at the ground level. What was fascinating is what principals said about why they didn’t rate some teachers as below proficient.  For example, some principals reported not assigning a below proficient rating to some teachers who were on the borderline because they felt their time was better spent focusing on providing extra supports to the lowest performing teachers. Other principals stated they avoided rating teachers below proficient who showed potential to be effective teachers in the future. While technically these teachers should have received poor ratings, these are actions good supervisors should take to build an effective staff.

Yet, these are examples of why it is imperative to include objective measures of effectiveness in any teacher evaluation system. States now have more flexibility in designing their own evaluation systems with the passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). They should include objective measures such as student test scores in their revised evaluations. Doing so still provides an opportunity for evaluators, such as the principals in this report, to focus their time and resources on the teachers that need them most. At the same time it lessens the chances evaluators will simply identify nearly all teachers as proficient because it is just easier to do so just as it was prior to 2009 in most states.

What states need to do now is find a proper balance between objective measures and trusting the professional judgment of evaluators, especially principals, who know what is best for the teachers and the students in that school. As the report shows, states have not yet found that right balance. Keep in mind, however, these new teacher evaluation systems are still quite new and will take some time to make the adjustments needed to have a significant positive impact on both teachers and students. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Teacher evaluation,teachers — Jim Hull @ 2:52 pm

February 24, 2016

Teaching may be harder for introverts

Last week a colleague sent me a fascinating article: “Why Introverted Teachers Are Burning Out.” It struck home with me.

I am very much an introvert and understand my own needs for quiet and alone time to re-charge. Yet, for some reason, I had never connected that with my job as a teacher. I didn’t realize that the utter exhaustion I felt at the end of the day may be more acute, or different, than what my extroverted teacher friends felt. Of course, teaching is a hard and tiring job for anyone, but this article completely resonated with me that much of my “burn-out” was due to my introversion. I am using burn-out in several ways here: sometimes you feel it on a Wednesday and can’t believe you have to come back to work the next two days, sometimes it hits in February and you honestly aren’t sure if you will make it until June, and sometimes it results in leaving the profession altogether. The novel idea that teaching is harder on an introvert never occurred to me until reading this article. For those of you who are interested, a simple Google search of “introvert teacher” brought up a plethora of blog posts and tips from introverted teachers on how to survive.

Let me take you through a run-down of a typical day in the life of a teacher:

  • Early morning you walk into the building. You may try to get there early to get some time alone to set up but if there are family obligations or a bad commute you may only have 15-20 minutes before your first class walks in. In that time you need to straighten the desks, write the objective, agenda, and homework on the board, make copies if needed, put your lunch away, get out your attendance and worksheets, and any other tasks that may pop up.
  • Students walk into first period and will often be talking a mile a minute and yelling and joking with their friends. It’s amazing how much energy they can have early in the morning. There will be a constant barrage of questions around last night’s homework, what we will learn in class today, what tonight’s homework will be (yes, this is all written on the board as I reminded them every day when they asked), and some begging to have no homework or no test.
  • The class period will be filled with activity. Sometimes the teacher will be talking and sometimes students will be working in pairs or groups. There is constant noise. You have to pay attention to every student and read body language to see what is happening around the room. You will need to walk around and check in with every group as they work and at the same time keep one ear and eye on all the other groups to make sure they stay on task.
  • When the period ends, you have roughly four minutes between classes to straighten out the room, prepare for the next bunch to come in and do it all over again. Keep in mind that it may take two minutes for the whole class to actually leave the room and many students from the next class will walk in two minutes early so there is no time alone or quiet in between.
  • At some point the teacher will have a period off. You may think this is a good time to re-charge with some quiet time. However, due to space constraints in schools, your classroom will almost always be scheduled for another class and you will get kicked out to the faculty lounge. The faculty lounge will be filled with all the other teachers that have been kicked out of their regular classrooms for the period. Sometimes it is quiet, but often teachers are talking to each other. Or, you have a meeting. There is an endless number of meetings: IEPs, grade level, subject level, evaluations, RTI, etc. Sometimes those meetings take place in the faculty lounge because there is no other space available. So, even if you aren’t in a meeting, there is a good chance you’re listening to a meeting happening a few feet away.
  • Lunch doesn’t bring any relief. It is usually 20-30 minutes and often we have made plans with students to eat their lunch with us so we can get some one-on-one time to go over an issue or re-teach a concept they are confused about. Eating always happens while doing something else.
  • In the afternoon there are more sections of students like were already described.
  • After school brings students that need help or have questions. Or, more meetings.

It’s no wonder I was exhausted at the end of the day and often drove home in complete silence- no radio. There were very few moments in the whole day where I wasn’t talking to someone. Friday nights I could absolutely not handle any plans. I was basically comatose by then and needed the whole night on the couch to get my head to stop spinning.

The article makes a great point that the world is moving towards increasing “social” or group learning. We want our students to work in groups and we expect our teachers to learn in groups. Professional development generally asks teachers to talk in groups about new practices. Grade and subject level meetings have teachers review student data and lesson plans in groups. This is exhausting to introverts who prefer to have time to reflect on their own rather than working out problems verbally.

The article cites lack of awareness, among teachers and administrators, as a problem. I was certainly unaware and I was an introvert myself! It was interesting to look at this issue from an administrative standpoint. If leadership considered the impact of teacher personalities and learning styles there may be ways of making the day more manageable. Lack of space may not be fixed but keeping the need for quiet space in mind may be helpful. Also, professional development could be delivered in many different ways. Introverts may prefer to be part of a book group or have reading assigned to reflect on with their supervisor rather than participating in a group activity. This may not be possible, but it was interesting to consider.

A Forbes article suggested that one-third to half of all people may be introverts. This doesn’t tell us what population of the teaching force are introverts but I would venture there are quite a few. Many people, including teachers-in-training, believe that teaching means they will have their own classroom to be in all day (whether students are there or not). They will be the rulers of this space and when the students aren’t there they have time to reflect on lessons and do their grading. The reality is very different.

It may be important to consider how introversion versus extroversion impacts teachers and students during the day. Teacher retention is a trending topic and is extremely important to maintain effective and veteran teachers. If burnout among introverts is making the profession lose great teachers it is worth looking into. Luckily, as I discovered, there is a wealth of information and resources available online that address this issue.

Filed under: teachers — Breanna Higgins @ 2:03 pm

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »
RSS Feed