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September 19, 2014

Proposed changes to TFA program are response to criticisms

Teach for America is responding to widespread criticism of its controversial teacher preparation program which attracts recent college graduates, provides a six-week summer training program, places them in high-needs schools across the country and requires a two-year teaching commitment. Critics have argued that TFA has encouraged high levels of teacher turnover by requiring only a two year commitment and has irresponsibly placed unprepared teachers into communities vastly different from their own. However, it seems that TFA is listening to and using these critiques to better their program and the education of the students they serve. Two new TFA co-CEOs, Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard, are beginning to implement major changes to the well-established TFA model. Here are some highlights of the reforms:

  • Providing a full year pre-training program for early decision applicants: This full year pre-training program will mainly consist of online sessions focused around the history of inequality in the United States, classroom training techniques and may give these prospective teachers opportunity to visit classrooms in high-poverty communities.
  • Placing teachers in communities where they have personal ties
  • Encouraging teachers to commit to five years instead of two
  • Continuing instructional coaching during the five year commitment and providing stipends to pursue graduate studies in education

While it is admirable that TFA is responding to criticism, the main question is whether or not these changes will lead to more qualified and better prepared TFA teachers. Will this year of online preparation with some classroom visits be sufficient preparation for these teachers? Learning about poverty and classroom techniques online is surely different from knowing how to apply this knowledge in a classroom filled with underserved children. Parents of public school children believe the answer lies in more rigorous and longer teacher preparation and training. In the recently released PDK/Gallup poll “The Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools,” 75% of public school parents replied that teachers should spend one year or more “practicing teaching under the guidance of a certified teacher before assuming responsibility of his or her own classroom.” TFA needs to continue to make changes in its program but should work to align these changes with the wishes of public school parents who demand better prepared teachers for their children.

Filed under: CPE,teachers — Tags: , , — Courtney Spetko @ 7:00 am





September 18, 2014

PDK/Gallup poll Part 2 shows teachers matter

The folks at PDK and Gallup apparently had so much to report in this year’s annual poll of public attitudes toward public schools, they had to release it in two parts. Part 1, which we summarized here, addressed the Common Core state standards and perceptions about public schools more generally. Part 2, released this week, focuses primarily on public attitudes about the teaching profession. What they have to say should provide comfort to beleaguered teachers.

First, nearly two-thirds of the public expresses “trust and confidence in the men and women teaching children in the public schools.” The study’s authors note that this represents a decline from previous years. Nonetheless, it must be a refreshing show of support for teachers who have many reasons to feel beat up by the punditry.

The public also recognizes the key role teachers play in student learning and by large margins would welcome policies to bolster their preparation and training. A full 81% believe prospective teachers should be required to “pass board certification” similar to that for other professionals like doctors and lawyers on top of their college degree in order to be licensed to teach. Likewise, 60% thought that there should be higher entrance requirements into teacher prep programs at the front end. The majority also support the idea of requiring a longer period of supervised practice before teachers take charge of their own classrooms. A plurality of 44% thought such a bridge period should last one year with 27% saying new teachers need two (see chart).

 

PDK2

 

Political affiliation had almost no effect on opinions about teacher preparation. Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike called for increasing rigor. Not so when asked about teacher evaluation, however, possibly in response to growing political controversy over new evaluation policies that are based in part on teachers’ impact on student learning. Nationally, 61% of the public opposes evaluations that include “how well a teacher’s students perform on standardized tests.” Yet only 50% of Republicans were opposed compared to 68% of Democrats. Interestingly, overall opposition to using evaluation in this way is much higher now than it was just two years ago when slightly less than half of the overall public thought it was a bad idea.

Similar party-affiliation gaps were evident when pollsters asked about the purposes of evaluation: 86% of Democrats said using evaluation to help “teachers improve” was “very important” compared to 71% of Republicans. In contrast, Republicans were much more favorable to linking evaluation to salaries or bonuses: 51% of Republicans said this was “very important” compared to only 41% of Democrats.

Other questions explored whether the public thinks their schools need to change “to meet today’s needs” and if so, how. More than half (58%) said that schools need to change compared to 47% who though so in 2006. The biggest needed change the public would like to see is a greater emphasis on career-technical education: 60% “strongly agreed” that “high school students should receive more education about possible career choices” while 32% said the same about placing “more emphasis” on college preparation for all.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the public thinks career education is more important than college readiness. It could indicate that they think high schools are doing ok with college prep but they need to do more to get students ready for work. But either way, the message is clear that the public is looking toward high schools to make sure all graduates are able to thrive in the new workplace.

Along those lines, CPE’s Jim Hull has been analyzing work and other outcomes for the group of high school graduates who do not go to a two- or four-year college. His findings should produce some valuable insights into what career-readiness should look like. His first report will be released in the next two weeks so stay tuned. – Patte Barth






September 11, 2014

Chamber of Commerce grades states on their educational effectiveness

Report-Card The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation once again is grading each state on their educational effectiveness based on 11 indicators in their most recent Leaders and Laggards report card. However, if you’re looking to find out which state is this year’s valedictorian you won’t find it in this report card. Unlike student report cards, the Chamber didn’t calculate a composite GPA. Reason likely being the Chamber wanted to keep the focus on where state’s can improve in each of the 11 areas graded which would have likely been overshadowed by an overall ranking of states. For this, I applaud the Chamber as the report card should be viewed as a tool for continuous improvement not as a final evaluation.

Although each of the indicators has their limitations, they provide some context as to how each state compares to other states in a wide range of areas. As our Data First site highlights, there is no single measure that can accurately evaluate the effectiveness of our public schools and all measures have their limitations. Understanding these limitations is key to using any measure to evaluate our public schools.

Keep in mind, however, that not everyone has the same definition of effectiveness when it comes to our public schools. While we all may agree that the main objective of our public schools is to improve student achievement, others may argue that schools should also turn out good citizens or creative thinkers while others may argue an effective school is one that keeps children out of harms way. These are all valid characteristics of an effective school but it shows that effectiveness is really based on the values of the individual doing the evaluating.

And the Chamber’s report card is no different. While they utilized 11 indicators, these indicators align with the values of the Chamber and what they believe constitutes an effective school which may not align to the beliefs of you or me. That is important to keep in mind as you read the Chamber’s report card. As the report card likely doesn’t include all the indicators you would use to evaluate the effectiveness of your public schools.

So, just because your state may not have earned high grades on the Chamber’s report card, your state may have earned straight A’s on yours. – Jim Hull

 

The Findings

 

All states improved their academic performance between 2005 and 2013 but the improvement varied greatly by state

  • Hawaii, Washington, DC, and Maryland made the greatest gains during this time period by improving their NAEP 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores by 13, 12, and 10 respectively. Such gains are roughly equivalent to about a year’s worth more of learning.
  • On the other hand, South Carolina, Michigan, and South Dakota made the least amount of gains over this same time period by improving their scores by 1.5, 1.0 and .25 points respectively.
  • Half or more of 4th graders in just six states scored at or above the NAEP proficient achievement level on the 2013 math assessment.
    • In no state did at least half the students reach the NAEP proficient achievement level on either the 4th or 8th grade reading assessments.
    • Massachusetts was the only state where at least half (54 percent) of 8th graders reached the NAEP proficiency level in math.

States vary widely in the return on their education investment

  • Utah, Colorado, and Idaho received the most bang for their buck as they spend fewer dollars per NAEP score point when taking into consideration the differences in the cost of living.
  • On the other end of the ROI spectrum, West Virginia, Louisiana, and Delaware saw low NAEP performance along with high costs.
  • Yet, simply keeping costs down didn’t necessarily equate to higher ROI grades. For example, both Wyoming and Mississippi received F’s in their return on investment yet Mississippi ($9,330) spent over $7,000 less per student than Wyoming ($16,594).

The college readiness of most high school graduates is lagging

  • On average 20 percent of graduates passed at least one Advanced Placement (AP) exam.
    • No state did more than 30 percent of graduates pass at least one AP exam while in high school.
    • Maryland and Connecticut had the highest pass rates at 29 percent followed by Virginia at 28 percent.
    • Louisiana and Mississippi had the lowest pass rates at 5 and 4 percent respectively.
  • In those states with high pass rates provide both the access and the preparation to succeed in college-level courses.

Few students are receiving preparation for STEM related fields

  • Less than 10 percent of graduates passed an AP STEM exam nationwide.
  • Massachusetts had the highest pass rate of AP STEM exams at 16 percent followed by Maryland and Connecticut with 15.8 and 15.4 percent passing respectively.
  • Nine states had STEM AP exam pass rates of less than 5 percent with Louisiana and Mississippi achieving the lowest pass rates at 1.9 and 1.2 percent respectively.

Parental choice varies by state

  • Washington, DC has the largest market share for schools of choice—in terms of charter schools and voucher programs—which is by far the largest share of any state. The state with the next highest market share is Louisiana at 22.9 percent.
  • Wyoming has the smallest market share at just 2.5 percent
  • However, larger market shares didn’t necessarily lead to higher grades in parental options.
    • Indiana received an A despite the fact they only have 4.5 percent market share for schools of choice.
    • Maryland received a F while having a 15.9 market share for schools of choice.

 

States can identify good teachers; they just can’t get enough of them

  • The recent reforms to teacher evaluation system appeared to have improved the states’ ability to identify teacher quality, retain effective teachers, and exit ineffective ones.
  • However, states are still struggling with preparing good teachers and expanding the pool of teachers through alternative certification programs.

Unfunded state pensions threaten public education

  • The inability of some states to fund their pension liabilities threatens their ability to fund all types of public services like education.
  • Connecticut, Kentucky, and Illinois are three states that have contributed less than half of what they should to keep their funds solvent.
  • On the other hand, Washington, North Carolina, and South Dakota have funded their programs at the required levels.
Filed under: NAEP,Public education,Report Summary — Jim Hull @ 12:33 pm





September 9, 2014

Myths About Teacher Evaluations

While teacher evaluations haven’t garnered as much media attention as the Common Core, in the education world it has been nearly as controversial. And just like the Common Core there are a number of myths about teacher evaluations that impede important discussions on how evaluations can best be used to improve student performance. Even this insightful EdWeek essay by a Philadelphia high school math teacher included some popular myths such as:

            Value-added systems provide precise percentile rankings of teachers

While value-added models certainly can provide percentile rankings of teachers this is typically not the case. The objective of most value-added measures is not to create rankings—which wouldn’t be very precise—but to determine if a teacher is more or less effective than an average teacher. Value-added measures cannot, should not, and typically are not used to rank teachers from best to worst in any teacher evaluation system.

The impact of a given teacher on student performance is too small to accurately quantify

Because there are a number of factors besides teachers that impact students’ test scores, this is exactly the reason why value-added measures should be used. It is the only quantifiable measure that even attempts to isolate the impact of the teacher from other factors that influence student achievement. As this video shows, teachers have a tremendous impact on the academic success of their students.

The differences between schools are too great to accurately quantify

It is true that large differences between schools have an impact on teacher effectiveness which is why high quality value-added models are designed to minimize the impact of such differences. A good value-added model will compare teachers within the same school or similar schools to control for the differences between schools. These controls are not perfect but they provide a more accurate assessment of how a teacher would perform in a typical school.

Teachers are blindly fired due to flawed data that doesn’t provide context

While the other three myths had some nuggets of truth, this one is totally untrue. As I found in my Trends in Teacher Evaluation report, no state relies solely on value-added (or any one measure of student achievement) for more than half of a teacher’s overall evaluation. Even in states where half of a teacher’s evaluation is based on measures of student achievement, most of these states require that multiple measures of student achievement be used, such as student learning objectives, formative assessments and teacher developed exams.

Furthermore, in just about every state evaluation system, the lowest-performing teachers are provided additional professional development, mentoring, or other assistance to help improve their performance. Only if the teacher fails to improve after multiple years of low performance do they become eligible to be fired. And in most states the district still has the final say on whether a teacher is fired or not. So while teacher evaluation systems are used to identify low-performing teachers, it is still up to district leaders in most states to determine what to do with that information. – Jim Hull

Filed under: CPE,Teacher evaluation,teachers — Tags: — Jim Hull @ 2:32 pm





September 5, 2014

CPE’s Newest Intern

Hello, my name is Courtney Spetko. I am the new intern at the Center for Public Education and will soon start posting weekly blogs here on The EDifer, so I thought I would introduce myself. I am currently a senior at The George Washington University pursuing a degree in Economics and Political Science.

I initially became interested in education policy during my freshman year of college when I started tutoring for an afterschool program in southeast Washington, D.C.  I quickly learned that public schools in D.C. are drastically different than the schools I attended in a New Jersey suburb. It was disheartening to hear from students that their teachers had quit within the first few months of the school year and that they were then without a qualified permanent math teacher. I used this personal experience as inspiration for a research paper for my Labor Economics last semester. In this paper, I researched the differences between charter and traditional public school teachers in Washington, D.C. and their characteristics, including turnover rates, academic backgrounds, and salary.

In addition to my tutoring and class experience, I worked at a non-profit over the summer that aims to fix the achievement gap and end summer learning loss by implementing an enrichment program for low achieving students. I also have interned for President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, where I provided assistance for their various research projects. I am especially excited to begin my internship with The Center to learn more about the public education system across the United States and to understand how education policy is used to confront the current challenges that students, teachers, administrators, and school boards face.

Filed under: CPE — Courtney Spetko @ 2:10 pm





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