Earlier this week, an Education Report reader sent me a link to a recent piece by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, titled, “Our Greatest National Shame.” He was referring, of course, to education in the United States.
The reader said he found most of the column “unremarkable” (especially, I’m sure, when compared to the lofty prose spewing from this keyboard), but Kristof cited two studies that piqued his interest. The reports were about teacher effectiveness, and they made this reader wonder how teacher talent should be measured in public schools, including those in OUSD.
Parent evaluations? Student test score gains? Classroom observations?
For all of the debate about teacher preparation and proper credentialing, some researchers say that those things seem to make little difference. In other words, that it’s hard to tell who’s going to be a good teacher until they start teaching.
One of the reports Kristof cited in his column was released this month by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. It compared two groups of relatively new teachers: those with alternative certification, such as Teach for America, and those who took the traditional route. Researchers analyzed the teaching practices and the student reading and math scores of 87 pairs of teachers in 63 schools in 20 school districts. Each pair taught in the same grade level, at the same school, with randomly assigned students.
The conclusion? It didn’t matter which path the teachers chose, or the number of hours required by their respective certification programs, or even the content of those programs:
This study found no benefit, on average, to student achievement from placing an (alternative route to certification) teacher in the classroom when the alternative was a (traditional route to certification) teacher, but there was no evidence of harm, either. In addition, the experimental and nonexperimental findings together indicate that although individual teachers appear to have an effect on students’ achievement, we could not identify what it is about a teacher that affects student achievement. Variation in student achievement was not strongly linked to the teachers’ chosen preparation route or to other measured teacher characteristics.
The other report Kristof cited was a bit older. The Brookings Institution published it in 2006. Its authors recommended that the system make it easier for people to enter into the teaching profession, but harder for teachers to be promoted, or to earn tenure. The Brookings report recommended that teacher performance be measured in a number of ways, including parent evaluations, classroom observations, teacher attendance, and gains in students’ test scores.
I imagine some of these ideas wouldn’t be very popular in Oakland or elsewhere, but maybe I’m wrong. How effectively are teachers’ abilities evaluated now, and how do you think they should be measured? Is there too much emphasis on evaluating teachers, or not enough? Or not the right kind?