BEST PRACTICES FOR TEACHER EFFECTIVENESS

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					                                                                                                  November 2009




National Council on
                      BEST PRACTICES FOR
 Teacher Quality
                      TEACHER EFFECTIVENESS
                      How districts nationwide are stacking up
                      Too many of the nation’s largest school districts have made only halting prog-
                      ress in adopting practices that foster teacher effectiveness. Many districts are
                      hiring smarter, and half now give extra pay to teachers who take jobs that are
                      hard to fill.

                      Yet high barriers to managing teachers’ careers for the best performance remain:
                      n   Principals do not have full power over which teachers work in their buildings, and
                          teacher prerogatives take precedence over student needs when it comes to teacher
                          assignments
                      n   Teacher evaluation does not identify the best teachers nor does it weed out the
                          weakest ones
                      n   Tenure continues to protect teacher jobs without helping to raise the bar on teacher
                          quality
                      n   The official work day for teachers is too short, reducing opportunities for collaboration
                          and meeting with students individually
                      n   Pay systems give outsized rewards for experience and advanced degrees while not doing
                          enough to get and keep the best teachers, especially in hard-to-fill assignments.

                      Staffing each classroom with an effective        (www.nctq.org/tr3). We draw, too, on re-
                      teacher is the most important function of a      search that grounds the education reform
                      school district. Doing so requires strategic     movement as well as our more in-depth
                      personnel policies and smart practices.          examinations of teacher management in
                                                                       the Hartford, Seattle and Boston school
                      This paper summarizes the current picture        districts.
                      and national trends in four areas key to
                      managing teachers careers for high perfor-       HIRING, ASSIGNMENT AND TRANSFER
                      mance: 1) hiring, assignment and transfer        Most districts continue to give their HR
                      2) evaluations and tenure 3) professional        offices, and not their school principals,
                      time and 4) compensation.                        the power to decide where teachers
                      The data we present here are obtained            will be assigned to teach.
                      from NCTQ’s TR3 database of the teacher          The trend in districts has been toward giv-
                      contracts, board policies and state laws         ing principals more say over who teaches
                      that provide teacher governance for 100          in their buildings. But the principal’s power
                      large school districts in the United States      most often applies to choosing among
                 teachers new to the district. When the           black market, in this case involving agree-
                 careers of tenured, veteran teachers are         ments and trades that tend to benefit the
                 involved, seniority protections often still      strongest schools headed by the savviest
                 hold sway.                                       principals. Consequently the schools with
                                                                  the most challenging students and often
                 In fact, district HR offices routinely force     the highest teacher turnover rates get
BEST PRACTICES   their principals to take teachers who lose       more than their share of weak teachers.
  FOR TEACHER    their current teaching assignment because
                 of shifts in enrollment or program. In only      Why don’t bad teachers just get fired?
 EFFECTIVENESS   one out of five districts in our 100 district    Because state law and local teachers’
                 database do teachers whose positions have        contracts have made firing a teacher too
                 been cut even have to interview for a new        involved, too lengthy and too costly.
                 job. In nearly all of the 100 districts, if no
                 principal wants to hire a teacher whose job      EVALUATION
                 has been eliminated, the district eventually     Teacher evaluations contribute to the
                 “force places” them anyway.                      harmful fiction that all tenured teach-
                                                                  ers are equally competent. Evaluation
                 Such transfers often play out as part of         systems are dysfunctional, failing to
                 school “reconstitutions”—when a school is        recognize teachers who are exemplary,
                 either closed or restructured due to chronic     providing little help to average teachers
                 poor performance. The result is that teach-      and skimping on the evidence needed
                 ers who are deemed unfit for a turnaround        to dismiss the weakest teachers.
                 effort at one underperforming school can
                 easily end up at an almost similarly needy       Unlike the standard practice in workplaces
                 school.                                          of all kinds, most districts do not require
                                                                  annual evaluations of any but the newest
                 In one district we examined, where seniori-      teachers. Only a third of the 100 districts in
                 ty prerogatives are minimal for most teach-      our database require annual evaluations of
                 ers seeking transfers, an exception is made      tenured teachers, even though tenure oc-
                 for tenured teachers wishing to transfer         curs very early in a teacher’s career--usually
                 from schools designated as “low perform-         after two or three years. In fact, one in five
                 ing” or “failing.” Such teachers can pick        districts requires teachers to be evaluated
                 an opening at another school, regardless         by their principal only once every three
                 of the principal’s view on the matter. In        years. A few go as long as to require evalu-
                 another district, teachers returning from        ations only every five years.
                 leave are among those guaranteed to get
                 one of the three positions they have put on      It is also common for teachers to be al-
                 a preference list.                               lowed to decide when they will be ob-
                                                                  served in the classroom as part of their
                 It is well understood by principals that         evaluation, virtually guaranteeing a “dog
                 routine drops in staffing requirements are       and pony” show rather than a slice of
                 an easy way to get rid of a weak teacher.        classroom life.
                 Underperforming teachers are more often
                 than not assigned to another school rather       Too often, districts fail to hold teachers
                 than shown the door, setting the stage for       accountable for poor performance. For
                 “the dance of the lemons.” More re-              example, in one school system we recently
                 sourceful principals know how to work the        reviewed, one half of 1 percent of all
                 system so that they can unload their weak        teachers received an unsatisfactory evalu-
                 teachers onto other schools, even giving a       ation rating. The New Teacher Project’s
                 teacher a satisfactory evaluation rating if      recent report, The Widget Effect, found
                 they’ll agree to a transfer. It’s not unlike a   much the same absence of negative rat-
             2
                                       ings. On average, in the 12 school districts        influence student performance, such as
                                       they examined, less than 1 percent of all           taking college courses, assuming extra du-
                                       teachers had received an unsatisfactory             ties like sponsoring a club or collaborating
                                       evaluation, even in schools where students          with colleagues. Only a handful of districts
                                       were chronically underperforming.                   make student performance the preponder-
                                                                                           ant criterion of teacher evaluation.
BEST PRACTICES                         A teacher’s main job is to increase student
  FOR TEACHER                          learning, yet many evaluation instruments           Tenure. Following the pattern set in higher
                                       are structured so that teachers can earn an         education, teachers might be awarded
 EFFECTIVENESS                         overall satisfactory rating without any evi-        tenure only after having met the standards
                                       dence that they are contributing to student         of a rigorous assessment. In fact, tenure in
                                       achievement. In fact, some districts prohibit       the K-12 context almost never works that
                                       standardized test scores from even being            way. Nontenured teachers may by law be
                                       considered in an evaluation. Districts often        observed in the classroom more frequently
                                       ignore the need for any means of gaug-              than tenured ones, and principals are
                                       ing how much students are learning, such            somewhat more likely to rate them as un-
                                       as district tests, examples of student work         satisfactory. Yet in all but two states tenure
                                       or a collection of a teacher’s assignments.         is virtually automatic for teachers who get
                                       Many evaluation instruments give as much            satisfactory evaluations for the required
                                       weight, or more, to factors that may not            number of years. Only seven states even

       How long before a teacher earns tenure?
                               No         1       2       3       4       5                        No         1         2        3        4       5
                              policy     year   years   years   years   years                     policy     year     years    years    years   years
       Alabama                                                                  Montana
       Alaska                                                                   Nebraska
       Arizona                                                                  Nevada
       Arkansas                                                                 New Hampshire
       California                                                               New Jersey
       Colorado                                                                 New Mexico
       Connecticut                                                              New York
       Delaware                                                                 North Carolina
       District of Columbia                                                     North Dakota
       Florida                                                                  Ohio
       Georgia                                                                  Oklahoma
       Hawaii                                                                   Oregon
       Idaho                                                                    Pennsylvania
       Illinois                                                                 Rhode Island
       Indiana                                                                  South Carolina
       Iowa                                                                     South Dakota
       Kansas                                                                   Tennessee
       Kentucky                                                                 Texas
       Louisiana                                                                Utah
       Maine                                                                    Vermont
       Maryland                                                                 Virginia
       Massachusetts                                                            Washington
       Michigan                                                                 West Virginia
       Minnesota                                                                Wisconsin
       Mississippi                                                              Wyoming
       Missouri
                                                                                                    1         3        7        33       5        2

                                                                                                        Source: NCTQ State Teacher Policy Yearbook 2008.
                    3
                          SC
                             HN                                         Studies or individual estimates finding a negative effect                                         Studies or individual estimates finding a positive effect
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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             The impact of teachers’ advanced degrees on student learning




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                                                                                                                                                                                             Small, but




                                                                                                         Small, but
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  POSITIVE




                                   NEGATIVE
                                                                                                                                                          NO EFFECT




                                                                                                         Significant Effect
                                                                                                                                                                                             Significant Effect




                                                      Moderate Effect = -0.06                                                                                                                                    Moderate Effect = 0.06
                                                      Large Effect = -0.15                                                                                                                                          Large Effect = 0.15
                 require teachers to wait until they have at                ing in significant variations in instructional
                 least four years of experience under their                 time. Students in New York City, for ex-
                 belt, meaning that most decisions to award                 ample, have nine more weeks of instruc-
                 tenure are made without much data on a                     tion than students in Chicago, due to the
                 teacher’s performance.                                     combination of a longer school day (6
                                                                            hours and 50 minutes versus 5 hours and
BEST PRACTICES   Once a teacher has tenure, the district and                45 minutes) and year (186 days versus 174
  FOR TEACHER    state will invest over $2 million in that indi-            days).
                 vidual in salary, benefits and pension alone.
 EFFECTIVENESS   And because the process for terminating a                  COMPENSATION
                 tenured teacher is arduous, tenure confers                 Pay structures provide the wrong
                 lifetime job protection provided the teacher               incentives. In nearly all school districts
                 commits no crime or moral infraction.                      teacher pay is based on two factors
                 How long before teachers are awarded                       that bear little connection to teacher
                 tenure?                                                    effectiveness: their years of experience
                                                                            and if they hold an advanced degree.
                 PROFESSIONAL TIME
                                                                            Teachers earn annual “step increases” for
                 The work rules and schedules currently                     each additional year of experience they ac-
                 found in most teachers’ contracts do                       cumulate and receive even larger increases
                 little to foster professionalism. They                     for earning a master’s or doctorate. In many
                 are both too inflexible and too lax to                     districts, teachers receive salary increases
                 help teachers do their complex job.                        simply for progressing towards a degree.
                 Many districts require teachers to be on                   Experience. A teacher with 20 years
                 site for only a few minutes longer than the                of experience is not apt to be any more
                 student school day, providing little time                  effective than a teacher with five years
                 for teachers to plan lessons, work col-                    of experience. A body of research has
                 laboratively with colleagues or meet with                  conclusively shown that teachers improve
                 students. Highly successful schools in this                dramatically between their first and second
                 country, such as the KIPP charter schools,                 years of teaching, considerably so between
                 require a longer teacher day, while nations                their second and third, and relatively little
                 with high performing schools, such as Ja-                  in subsequent years. In sum, many teach-
                 pan and Singapore, build in more prepara-                  ers become about as effective as they ever
                 tion and collaboration time for teachers.                  will be by their fifth year. In most districts,
                                                                            though, the most experienced teach-
                 Just 16 districts in our 100 district database
                                                                            ers qualify for the highest increases.1 If
                 require teachers to work an 8-hour day.
                                                                            pay schedules reflected research findings
                 If there is a trend toward lengthening the
                                                                            and served district goals, they would be
                 teacher’s day, so few minutes are added at
                                                                            configured to award the largest raises to
                 any one time that a routine 8-hour day is
                                                                            teachers with less experience. It is in the
                 still far off.
                                                                            first few years of a teacher’s career when
                 The student school year and school day                     the greatest gains in effectiveness are
                 vary significantly across the U.S., result-                made and also when turnover is highest-
                                                                            -such raises could be used as a retention


                 1 These disproportionate pay raises that more experienced teachers often receive cannot be explained as a result
                   of the increases being tied to a percentage of current salary, meaning the more a teacher earns, the larger the
                   pay increase. The step increases that districts award teachers each year are not calculated in this manner and
                   bear no mathematical relationship to the current salary. However, when teachers receive cost of living increases,
                   these raises are calculated as a percentage of current salary.
             5
                 incentive for the teachers who earn tenure.      fastest, easiest and cheapest route to a
                 Further, more experienced teachers are less      degree. Nationally, even at the secondary
                 likely to leave the profession because of        level, less than one in four degrees is in the
                 the relatively generous pension that awaits      teachers’ subject area. At the elementary
                 them, making it less necessary to use pay        level, only a small fraction of the degrees
                 increases to keep them in teaching.              (7 percent) is in a content area.
BEST PRACTICES
  FOR TEACHER    Advanced degrees. While one might                Despite those figures, two-thirds of districts
                 assume advanced degrees help teachers to         reimburse teachers for taking coursework
 EFFECTIVENESS   be more effective, the education research        toward an advanced degree and all districts
                 over the last 50 years has found little to no    boost pay for obtaining the credential.
                 evidence to support this. Yet districts con-     Teachers with a master’s degree earn on
                 tinue to provide incentives with very few        average $6,000 more a year than their
                 restrictions for teachers to get a degree.       colleagues without a master’s degree.
                                                                  Money spent on master’s degrees could
                 Most districts (often mandated by state          be targeted to pay that would reward the
                 law) boost a teacher’s pay for any ad-           highest performing teachers and attract
                 vanced degree, regardless of whether the         teachers to fields or schools that are hard
                 degree is likely to help a teacher improve.      to staff.
                 Busy and cash-strapped teachers take the

                 Percentage of teacher payroll rewarding coursework

                 30%

                  25

                  20

                  15

                  10

                   5

                   0
                       Chicago   Clark   Gwinnett Houston     Los Memphis    New      Prince   Seattle   Hartford
                                                            Angeles          York    Georges


                 Pay reform. Many of the districts in our         education or physical science. About 30
                 100 district database are experimenting          percent attach additional money to work-
                 with different ways to pay teachers. Yet vir-    ing in challenging schools.
                 tually none of the changes fundamentally
                 reworks a pay structure skewed toward            Another set of pay reforms are aimed at
                 rewarding advanced degrees and lengthy           rewarding top performance. Twenty-eight
                 service. Instead, districts have provided        districts offer some form of performance
                 incentives for teachers to accept hard-          pay. The vast majority of districts provide
                 to-staff assignments. Half of the nation’s       bonuses to teachers who have earned
                 districts districts offer more money for         certification from the National Board for
                 working in shortage fields, such as special      Professional Teaching Standards.




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