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September 22, 2016

Do we need to declare a crisis to fix the teacher pipeline?

Is the U.S. suffering from a teacher shortage? Or (more presciently) is a teacher shortage looming? Whether backward or forward-looking, the media and a litany of researchers (ourselves included) have pondered, studied and reported on this and related questions with increasing frequency.

The non-profit, non-partisan Learning Policy Institute (LPI) is the latest think-tank to examine the issue from a national lens, in a series of reports that appear to be a fairly comprehensive analysis of the situation. I won’t pretend to have combed through all of them, but my quick take is that they reach much the same conclusion as we did: there’s no easy solution because it’s a complicated and nuanced matter— as one would expect in a country of 50 states and more than 14,000 school districts.

Hence, the holes in the teacher pipeline are myriad and vary widely depending on state education policies, demographics, housing conditions, the overall job market and, of course, school funding. There are common themes, however: rural and high-poverty districts; science, math and special education; and high schools all struggle more than their counterparts to recruit and retain teachers.

Have we reached “crisis” level yet? Who knows and really, who cares? Certainly not the states and communities who are already struggling to find and keep qualified teachers— and are employing numerous and, often times, highly creative methods to address this.  These methods often place teachers in classrooms before they are truly ready and qualified to teach.

Both LPI’s report and our own provide policies and programs that have been successful at attracting and retaining qualified teachers. And again, we reach the same conclusion: a multi-faceted approach that involves all the key players in the education landscape is the only way to ensure every school has access to qualified professionals who will be able to deliver the diverse and challenging curriculum that students need to succeed in the 21st century.

Sounds simple, but if coordination and communication were that easy then we wouldn’t be reading another report about a current/impending/distant crisis in education would we?

September 13, 2016

What Works Clearinghouse

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, released its updated website today, and it is pretty spectacular: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc

IES sponsors and conducts research that provides evidence for education policies and practices.  Their new website makes it easier for policy makers to find evidence-based policies, which is especially helpful given the new flexibility that states and districts have under ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act).

You can now look up research for programs that have been tested for improving educational outcomes in various subjects (Math, Literacy, & Science), for student populations (English Learners, Students with Disabilities), and various age groups.  You can also cross-filter to find programs related to multiple groups (Math achievement for Students with Disabilities in High School, for example).  The evidence also shows how many studies were conducted, how many students were involved in the study, and the size of the effect.

My only critique would be the lack of evidence for some types of programs, but that’s a content-based issue, not related to the website’s format.  So, if you want a program that improves Teacher Excellence, you’ll only find one that has shown positive effects, which may or may not be applicable to your district.  But, the upside to this is that researchers and policy makers can more readily see where the gaps in evidence lie and start working to fill them in.

September 7, 2016

Do we get what we pay for?

The U.S. spends more to educate its students than most of the other 35 countries that are part of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), yet by some measures we don’t seem to get much benefit from our expenditures.  Is this a fair accusation?

Bruce Baker and Mark Weber, on behalf of the Albert Shanker Institute, posit that it’s not.  When you take into account America’s high per-capita GDP, high child-poverty rate, and expenses that school systems in other OECD member countries don’t have to cover in the same way (employee health care, pensions, and disability, not to mention school sports), maybe we’re not doing so poorly, after all.

If you define school efficiency as being the best production (we’ll examine this using the results from PISA, which are international assessments administered by OECD) then based on the amount of money spent, we aren’t too far below the average (For per-pupil spending of about $12,000, we should have slightly higher PISA scores, if we had average efficiency.)


When you take per-capita GDP into account, we’re pretty close to where we should be on spending levels (if you draw a best-fit line through the dots, we would be close to that line).


When you take our high child-poverty rate into account, our PISA scores look pretty stellar (given how far above the line we are).  Obviously, this excuse is still frustrating, as we also need to address why we have so many children in relative poverty.


What we can learn from this, however, is that some states do better than others.  States with high rates of child poverty also tend to have lower per-pupil spending, giving them less capacity to help the students who most need it.  We should look at what Massachusetts and New Jersey are doing with their dollars in comparison to Hawaii or West Virginia to determine education policies (though, of course, these states all have very different contexts).


The other insight in this report is that the U.S. spends relatively less on teacher salaries than other countries.  So, if we were to address inefficiencies in our system, it would need to be on administration, buildings, and transportation.  Small schools, especially rural schools, are more expensive to run than schools in more densely populated areas due to increased per-pupil administrative and transportation costs.  Schools still need a principal and a custodian, whether there are 50 students or 500 students.  Charter schools and districts also tend to be less efficient, as they are typically smaller, incurring greater costs for administration.


So, are we getting enough bang for our buck?  Maybe.

Filed under: CPE,International Comparisons — Tags: , , , , — Chandi Wagner @ 2:30 am

August 29, 2016

Americans’ Views on Education

What do Americans think about our current educational system?  PDK released its 48th annual poll of Americans’ views on education today.  The results show some differences between current policies and how Americans believe schools should operate.  Here are our favorite highlights:

  • Most illogical: 48% of respondents gave their local schools an “A” or “B” grade, but only 24% gave the same to the nation’s schools. (These discrepancies are pretty consistent over the last 20 years and are confirmed by EducationNext’s recent poll, which had a difference of 55% to 25%.)
  • Most hopeful: Parents with at least one child in a public school gave their local schools an A or B at a much higher rate than the general public. Parents who reported that they were satisfied with the school’s communication and were invited to see what was happening in the school were also much happier with their school’s overall performance.  School leaders should take note and invite parents (and the general public) to be more involved.
  • Most inconclusive: Americans are split on the purpose of education, which means that they are also split on what schools should be doing. Despite efforts under No Child Left Behind from 2002-2016 to bolster academic achievement, only 45% of respondents said that the main goal of public education was to prepare students academically.  26% said that the main goal was to prepare students to be good citizens, and 25% said that public schools should prepare students for work.  Not surprisingly, given the current emphasis on academics, those who claimed that academic achievement was the main goal of public education were more likely to rate their local public schools more positively than those who thought schools should prepare students for work.  Conservatives were more likely than liberals to emphasize academics over citizenship.
  • Most dichotomous: Overwhelming majorities of Americans claimed that certain “soft goals” should be important for public schools: developing good work habits (90%), providing factual information (85%), enhancing critical thinking (82%), preparing students to be good citizens (82%), and preparing students to work well in groups (76%). However, less than 40% of respondents said that their local schools were doing well at meeting these goals.  Blacks were most likely to see citizenship as extremely important, while whites and Hispanics were most likely to view developing good work habits as extremely important.
  • Most likely to be quoted on social media: 56% of parents believe that their students are assigned the right amount of homework, with 23% claiming their students have too little homework and 20% saying there’s too much.
  • Most likely to make teachers happy: 53% of respondents support raising local property taxes to support their community’s public schools, compared to 45% who oppose the idea. Teachers would be the #1 priority for spending funds if taxes were raised, with 34%, followed by supplies and classes/extracurriculars, at 17% each.

Poll results do not assuage the debate between community control and government oversight.  Americans are split on the purpose of education, school funding, and quality of schools, which makes it difficult for policy makers to decide where to go next.  As poet John Lydgate said: “you can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”  The question is, though: can we do what is best for our students and our society?

Filed under: CPE — Tags: , — Chandi Wagner @ 7:05 pm

August 22, 2016

The “Soft” Side of Teacher Supply

Our last blog post talked about the “hard” side of teacher supply – the money.  However, we also alluded to non-monetary factors that are even more important in recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers: respect, job satisfaction, and autonomy.  Very little research has focused on why individuals choose to become teachers, but we do have a plethora of information from teachers about why they choose to stay or leave the profession, which we can use to make assumptions about recruiting new teachers, as well.

A recent Center on Education Policy (CEP) survey highlights teachers’ views on why they entered the profession (mostly altruistic) and their greatest challenges (mostly policy-related).  Teachers, like most professionals, want to feel successful in their jobs (Moore Johnson & Birkeland, 2003), which is supported by evidence that teachers with higher value-added test scores are less likely to request transfers between schools (Boyd, et al., 2011).  35% of teachers who leave the profession cite dissatisfaction with their job as at least one of the reasons for leaving (Ingersoll & May, 2011).

How do we tap into teachers’ altruistic motives to create policies that may keep more high-quality teachers in the field?  Here are just a few ideas:

  1. Help novice teachers be more successful. The National Center for Education Statistics found that beginning teachers were more likely to stay if they had a mentor, with 86% of teachers with mentors staying in teaching for five years, as compared with 71% without mentors.
  2. Give teachers time to collaborate and be creative by reducing the number of hours they are instructing students. Forty-nine percent of teachers in CEP’s survey reported that their day-to-day teaching would improve with additional planning time and 34% reported that additional collaboration time would help them in teaching. U.S. teachers spend significantly more time in the direct instruction of students than their peers in other countries:


    Source: http://www.oecd.org/edu/EAG2014-Indicator%20D4%20(eng).pdf


  1. Build effective systems around student discipline. Each student has unique behavioral needs, which must be addressed through individualized strategies. Students should not be allowed to disrupt their peers’ learning, nor should they be suspended for minor infractions.  Schools and principals need to support teachers and by providing behavioral supports, both positive and punitive.  Teachers in CEP’s survey reported “managing student behavior” as their greatest school-level challenge.
  2. Include teachers in decision-making. CEP’s teacher survey clearly showed that teachers do not feel that their opinions were taken into account by policy makers. Teachers are on the ground every day with students, and thus know more than any other level of decision maker how policies translate into practice.  Involving teachers in policy making may have better outcomes for students, as well as improved perceptions of teacher professionalism.

Teacher Decisions

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