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October 1, 2015

Diversifying the teaching force

We know many of the qualities that define “good” teachers: subject matter knowledge, credentials, experience, and impact on learning. But according to a growing body of research, this list is incomplete without also assuring the teaching staff resembles the demographic make up of the students they serve. Let’s just say, we have a long way to go.

Our current public-school enrollment is very close to being majority-minority. In 2011-12, 51 percent of public K-12 students were white down from 59 percent 10 years before. In contrast, 82 percent of their teachers were white (see chart). In American cities, where students of color comprise a two-thirds majority, 71 percent of their teachers were white.  A full three-quarters were female.


Across the country, districts are facing teacher shortages, especially in key areas like special education and mathematics. The additional effort to increase the diversity of their staff may seem like making an already difficult job even harder. In its recent report on the subject, the Albert Shanker Institute acknowledged as much, stating that “our first priority must be to ensure that every student has the benefit of being taught by skilled, knowledgeable and caring teachers – of whatever race and ethnicity.” Nonetheless, they further maintain that diversity “should be a factor, and an important one at that.” This is especially so for the education of minority students.

Among the reasons cited by the Shanker Institute authors is that teachers who share a cultural experience with their students are better able to motivate and inspire them, and are less likely to “confuse cultural difference with cultural or intellectual disadvantage.”  The authors also refer to research suggesting that a demographic match between teachers and students improves students’ academic performance.

Evidence for this latter statement received a big boost earlier this year by researchers Anna Egalite, Brain Kisida and Marcus Winters who analyzed the relationship of what they call “own-race teachers” to student achievement. The authors had access to a huge database enabling them to link 92,000 Florida teachers to 3 million students over a seven year period. They tracked the performance of individual students while in classrooms with different teachers by race and ethnicity over several grades, and compared the impact of same-race to different-race assignments. In this way they have produced perhaps the most rigorous study to date of the effect of minority teachers on minority student achievement.

Here’s what they found: students perform higher in math and reading when they are assigned to teachers of the same race. The overall results are small, but statistically significant. There are differences by race, however. The performance of black, white and Asian students were significantly positive in math, but the effects were highest for black and Asian students.

Hispanic students were the exception. For this group of students, having an Hispanic teacher actually produced a negative effect. The researchers conjectured that this finding could be due to limitations in the data. They explain, the Florida Hispanic population is quite large and culturally diverse, including self-described Caribbeans, Mexicans, Central and South Americans. Grouping them into one ethnicity could therefore be masking important differences among them.

As virtually every researcher does, Egalite and her team call for more research to better understand the relationship between teachers and students by race. But for us lay people, the evidence is pretty clear that school districts should pay attention to recruiting a teaching force that is demographically representative of the community alongside their professional qualities.


Filed under: Achievement Gaps,Demographics,teachers — Tags: , — Patte Barth @ 12:42 pm

October 28, 2014

Building a better reporting system

As readers know, CPE is all about the importance of using data and research to craft effective school policy and practice. We also encourage everyone who has an interest in public schools to look at data when gauging their quality. Unfortunately, getting that data isn’t always as straightforward as it could be. Even when found, it’s often presented in long tables, complicated graphs and confusing formats that obscure rather than shed light on school performance.

The Data Quality Campaign sought to address the all-too-common lack of quality in the way states report school data to the public. DQC recently convened a task force of national education experts and advocates — an effort we were proud to be part of — to identify best practices in state reporting systems. The results of our meetings are contained in the publication, Empowering Parents and Communities through Quality Public Reporting, released today.

The recommendations are intended for state policymakers to inform their design of state data systems. These systems should feature the following characteristics:

  • First, the data is trustworthy. There’s obviously little value in data that is wrong or out-of-date so every effort must be made to ensure accuracy. In addition, an essential part of gaining the public’s trust in data systems is protecting student privacy. Indeed, parental concerns about who has access to their child’s data and how it is used have grown a lot over the last year. Both states and districts have a role in putting fail-safe limits on access to individual students’ data. (To learn more about how, NSBA’s general counsel’s office produced this excellent guide on assuring student data privacy and CPE/DQC developed this data privacy fact sheet for school boards.)
  • Good systems are also focused on meeting people’s information needs. Many state systems were developed with a view toward compliance with federal and state regulations. If this information was also useful to educators, administrators, policymakers, parents and press, it was merely by happenstance, not design. A good data system, however, is designed with the consumer in mind, going beyond compliance to provide a real service to education stakeholders.
  • State reporting is timely and ongoing. The data collection and vetting process can often delay public reporting for as long as two years. This doesn’t help teachers or parents who need to respond to students’ needs in real time, not long after the fact. The same is true for administrators and school boards who need current data to inform their decisions.
  • Finally, in a good system, data is easy to find, access and understand. Some state report cards are buried in the department of education website. Many others are hard to navigate or present the data in ways that are difficult to interpret. The DQC report features state-of-the-art data systems from Illinois, Ohio and others that demonstrate the possibilities in presenting data that is easy for non-statisticians to locate, understand and, ultimately, use effectively.

While the Empowering Parents report is intended for state policymakers, the accompanying fact sheets are written specifically for parents, administrators and school boards and they discuss how these different stakeholders can use data and be strong advocates for better data systems. — Patte Barth

Filed under: CPE,Data,Parents,School boards,teachers — Tags: , , , — Patte Barth @ 3:43 pm

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).




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

August 28, 2014

Success of new teacher evaluation systems in districts’ hands

In just the past few years just about every state has revamped how their teachers are evaluated. In 2010 the vast majority of teachers were evaluated by being observed for 45 minutes every couple years. Now, most teachers are evaluated annually based on multiple measures of their effectiveness. Although these new comprehensive evaluation systems have the opportunity to significantly impact the overall quality of our nation’s teachers, a new report from Bellwether Education Partners shows that they are still in need of improvement.

While these new evaluation systems are superior to previous evaluation systems, the report points out there is still room for improvement and provide five major findings with lessons for policymakers:

  1. Districts are starting to differentiate between poor, fair, and great educator performance, rather than treating all teachers as interchangeable widgets.
  2. Schools are using higher-quality classroom observation rubrics to provide teachers with better, timelier feedback.
  3. Despite state policy changes, many districts still don’t factor student growth into teacher evaluation ratings.
  4. Districts have wide discretion even under “statewide” evaluation systems—meaning that evaluation systems within the same state may look very different from one another.
  5. Districts continue to ignore performance when making decisions about teacher hiring, compensation, tenure, and dismissal.


As you can see “district” is explicitly mentioned in four of the five lessons and the fifth lesson about classroom observations typically falls under the domain of districts as well. This pretty much means the success or failure of these new evaluation systems depends in large part on our nation’s school boards as they are the policymakers at the district level.  As the report points out, even in states that mandate the use of a statewide evaluation system school districts have significant discretion over how their teachers are evaluated.

As I argue in our report Trends in Teacher Evaluations it is imperative that districts have flexibility in how they evaluate their teachers. And it is good to see that this is the case, as the Bellwether report stated, “Evaluation reform has not meant the end of local discretion.”

While flexibility is necessary, districts also need support too. Few districts have the resources and expertise to implement an accurate and effective teacher evaluation system on their own. Districts need support from their states to help them align these new evaluation systems to the unique needs of their district.

While responsibility for designing teacher evaluation systems was originally placed on states, this new report clearly shows that these new teacher evaluation systems will only be successful if school boards are provided the resources not only to implement these evaluation systems but also to provide professional development opportunities that are aligned with the results of each teacher’s evaluation. Without proper support for districts, teacher evaluations are unlikely to have much of an impact on the quality of our nation’s teachers. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Teacher evaluation,teachers — Tags: , , — Jim Hull @ 10:37 am

July 12, 2013

Greater flexibility in teacher assignments has its benefits

Research has consistently shown that the most disadvantaged students are less likely to have an effective teacher than their more advantaged peers. This is not only true across districts but within districts as well. Some have blamed this phenomenon—at least in part—on policies that prevent school leaders from replacing ineffective teachers and have argued that if principals were given the flexibility to move an ineffective teacher to another school within the district (called forced transfer) more disadvantaged students would have access to high quality teachers.

To date, there has been little research on whether such flexibility would lead to the intended outcomes. But a recent study found in fact that flexibility can lead to greater teacher effectiveness in low-performing urban schools. The study is not definitive since it is based on only one school district (Miami-Dade). But it found that principals in low-performing schools identified low-performing teachers– as measured by their value-added scores and number of days the teacher was absent—for transfer and were able to replace those teachers with more effective teachers in terms of both test scores (value-added scores) and fewer teacher absences. While the less effective teachers were more likely to be transferred to a much higher performing school with fewer disadvantaged students, unfortunately they were no more effective in their new school. Of course this leads to bigger discussion about what districts should do with ineffective teachers which is a topic for another post.

Such findings give credence to the theory that greater district flexibility in teacher assignments will lead to a more equitable distribution of teachers so disadvantaged students can get their fair share of effective teachers. In the long-term such a policy can have a big effect on narrowing achievement gaps as research has consistently shown the tremendous impact effective teachers have on student achievement.—Jim Hull

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,research,Teacher evaluation,teachers — Tags: , , — Jim Hull @ 4:07 pm

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