Teachin’ the Teachers

For much of this year, the education community has gone back and forth on teacher quality and how we evaluate effective teaching.  Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times (with an assist from Hechinger Report) pushed the topic further than most, offering a comprehensive Grading the Teachers effort that tracked individual teachers to their students’ test scores.

Without doubt, we will continue to look at such outcomes to see whether teachers are up to the job or not.  Cities across the nation, led by municipalities like Denver, Houston, and DC, have strong teacher evaluation and incentive plans in place.  And the 12 states (yes, I’ll count DC in the state pool) that finished as Race to the Top winners all needed to focus on teacher quality issues (to varying degrees).

Such emphasis on outcomes is imperative.  At the end of the day, we know our schools are improving when test scores go up.  Other measures, particularly the qualifiable, are relatively meaningless to the average parent or the average policymaker if student performance does not improve.  Scores go up, we’re doing the job.  Scores remain stagnant, we’re advocating the status quo.  And let’s not even think about scores going down.  Data is king.  He with the highest test scores — be you student, teacher, or school — rules the kingdom.

But every once in a while, we need to think about the inputs that get us to those outcomes.  The logic goes that if we are measuring teachers based on the achievement scores posted by the kids in their class, we need to also look at the tools that educators have to effectively teach in those classrooms.  What supports are teachers getting, particularly new teachers?  What does an induction program look like?  What sort of ongoing PD is offered?  What intellectual weapons are we arming our classroom teachers with?

Today, the National Staff Development Council released a new report, Professional Development in the United States: Trends and Challenges, that provides a snapshot of the investment we are making into teaching the teachers how to be better teachers.  Conducted by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) at Stanford University (a center that Eduflack has been fortunate to work with since its founding), the NSDC study offers a state-by-state report card of 11 indicators important to professional development access.  Such indicators include whether at least 80 percent of new teachers participate in induction, at least 80 percent of teachers report PD on content, at least 51 percent of teachers are getting 17 or more hours of content, and at least 67 percent of teachers reported PD on reading instruction.

How did the states do?  If a teacher wants to get the best professional development out there, they should be teaching in classrooms in either Arkansas or Utah.  If you aren’t in a classroom in either of those two states, you are doing pretty well if you manage a classroom in Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, or South Carolina.  South Carolina and Utah also offer the best environment for new teachers, posting the best scores in induction indicators.

And where does NSDC and SCOPE find teachers struggling to get the PD deemed necessary?  Indiana was the only state not to receive a single apple in the 11-apple indicator scale.    Single apples (out of 11) went to Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and WIsconsin.    

While many aren’t going to like to see such a report boiled down to a horserace (the folks at SCOPE actually list the states alphabetically, not in leaders to laggards order), such a comparison is important.  Teacher quality was a key component of RttT, and worth a fair number of points in the process.  Of the seven states recognized for their good work in PD access, only one, North Carolina, is a RttT winner.  Three others (Colorado, Kentucky, and South Carolina) came close.

But of those NSDC finds lacking, we see four RttT winners (Georgia, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Tennessee) in the 11 laggards.  One would like to believe that some of these perceived deficiencies will be addressed as part of each state’s RttT-funded teacher quality efforts; only time will tell.

What also becomes interesting are the indicators themselves.  NSDC’s Professional Development Access Index says that at least 51 percent of new teachers need to report 4 out of 5 induction support.s  Only two states — South Carolina and Utah — actually do that.  It says at least 67 percent of teachers need to report PD on student discipline and classroom management, but only one state — Arkansas — is doing that.  Only three states — Arizona, California, and Oregon — are offering a majority of their teachers PD on ELL students.  It begs the question — how, exactly, do we know these indicators are non-negotiable when it comes to teacher PD if almost no states are doing it? 

Regardless, NSDC’s Professional Development in the United States report provides some interesting fodder for the ongoing teacher quality debate.  It forces us to go on record as to whether PD is important or not, opens the discussion on what good PD truly is, and allows states to see how their fellow states are doing (and what they can do to beat them).

No, we probably won’t see a rush to invest in huge PD programs, particularly in this economy.  But if states are serious about improving student achievement and measuring teachers by said achievement scores, we need to look at the inputs that go into instruction.  Teacher induction and ongoing professional development are inputs that just can’t be ignored.

5 thoughts on “Teachin’ the Teachers

  1. So, are we advocating evaluating teachers based on student achievement without investing in quality and comprehensive PSD because the economy won’t allow it? That sounds like a classroom in which a teacher might articulate the learning goals to the students and tell them they will be held accountable for those goals in their final grade but then not provide the resources and supports to get the students there. If we’re not willing to invest in quality instruction (people and PSD), then we’re just kidding ourselves if we think the outcomes are going to change. But then there does need to be someone to blame and that can’t be the voters who are withholding their finacial support. We need a talented pool of teachers from which to draw and solid, well-focused PSD to help our kids achieve their potential.

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