I strongly favor teacher tenure. Now I know that not everyone agrees. But schools can too easily be politically contentious places, both from inside and as a result of outside pressure. If we want strong teachers, we need to give them protection.
Tenure should not mean total immunity, and it’s clear that all too often it does. What’s more, tenure should be earned. It ought not be automatic. As a practical matter, tenure too often is effectively automatic. (Let me be clear I’m talking about K-12. Tenure in research universities is an entirely different matter.)
The National Council on Teacher Quality has rated states according to how teachers are evaluated for tenure. Here’s a map based on the NCTQ data.
Too much yellow on the map, no?
I wrote last month about my surprise at learning that only about half of teachers were education majors. Dan Goldhaber sent me a note pointing out that a number of states encourage potential teachers to do an “academic” major, and then get teacher training separately. Dan also pointed me in the direction of Sandi Jacobs at the National Council on Teacher Quality, who has put together state-by-state data on the rules on doing an academic concentration for elementary schools teachers.
I’ve taken the data from the NCTQ’s State Teacher Policy Yearbook and put it into a map.
Most of the country does not require elementary school teachers to have an academic concentration either as a major or as a minor. And of those states that do, NCTQ finds that for many there are significant loopholes in the requirement.
One wants to be a little careful with all this. Doing an academic concentration isn’t sufficient training to be a teacher, you need teacher training too. But training teachers who don’t master basic college level material on some subject isn’t a good idea either. That appears to be where we are today.
Joel Klein was New York City schools chancellor from 2002 through the end of 2010. In Lessons of Hope Klein repeatedly emphasizes the importance of great teachers. Any evidence that he accomplished much in the way of attracting better teachers?
Here’s a picture from the Who Enters Teaching? article discussed here last week. I’ve added the red line to show where Klein’s tenure began.
Notice two things. First, SAT scores of teachers starting out in NYC (left panel) rose from well below those in the rest of the state (right panel) to a near match during the Klein regime. Second, the teacher SAT gap between rich and poor schools in the city closed remarkably on Klein’s watch, while not much happened outside the city .
I’d say the evidence of Klein’s accomplishment is solid. If you want to know how he and his team did it, read Klein’s book.
The loudest argument against education reform is that we need to fix poverty before we can fix schools. I’ve been searching for some time for a way to explain why this is so shameful an argument, anti-child and especially anti-poor child. Joel Klein’s Lessons of Hope offers clearer–and–more temperate language than I can provide.
From the day I became chancellor, many people told me, “You’ll never fix education in America until you fix poverty.” I’ve always believed that the reverse is true: we’ll never fix poverty until we fix education. Sure, a strong safety net and support programs for poor families are appropriate and necessary. …
Safety-net and support programs can never do what a good education can; they can never instill in a disadvantaged child the belief that society can and will work for him in the same way that it works for middle- and upper-class children. It is the sense of belonging— the feeling that the game is not rigged from the start— that allows a child to find autonomy, productivity, and, ultimately, happiness. That’s what education did for me. And that’s why, whenever I talk about education reform, I like to recall the wise, if haunting, words of Frederick Douglass, himself a slave, who said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
If we want to build strong children, we must not allow family or community circumstances to dictate whether a child gets a good school and good teachers.
Highly recommended reading: Joel Klein’s Lessons of Hope. A couple of telling quotes from a guy who made a big difference.
Perhaps the most surprising description of teacher preparedness came from Albert Shanker, who headed the UFT during its formative years, from 1964 to 1985 , and also ran the national union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), “In our system, we have a large number of teachers who have not reached even very low levels of literacy and numeracy. Some of our professional development programs are designed to get teachers to understand fractions or how to read; some other programs teach what tenth graders should know. You would not even be admitted to a college in these other countries, let alone get a job as a teacher, unless you knew those things.”
Thanks to the new contract the mayor had negotiated with the UFT, which had raised starting salaries to almost $ 40,000, nearly all of our new hires had passed the state test to be certified as teachers, though many were still not licensed to teach the subjects they would be assigned to teach. Nevertheless, having almost all certified teachers was a first for the city.
Whenever I asked a parent whether she would prefer her child in a class of twenty with a poor teacher or twenty-eight with a great teacher, she would always choose the latter. Still, overall, parents were focused on smaller classes.
Attracting and training the best teachers matters. Paying teachers better makes a difference. And despite teacher quality being more important than class size, the public still would rather pay for the latter than for the former.
A bit over a year ago I wrote about work done by Dan Goldhaber and Joe Walch that showed nation-wide evidence of improving teacher ability. New results from “Who Enters Teaching?,” by Lankford, Loeb, McEachin, Miller, and Wyckoff, offers similar good news based on teachers entering the profession in New York State.
Look at the following figure prepared by the authors. What’s really changed over the last couple of decades is that a much higher fraction of teachers come from the top third of the academic skill distribution (as measured by SAT scores.) After a long drought in which less than a third of teachers came from the top third of the SAT distribution, the fraction has now risen above 40 percent.
Perhaps even more interesting than the overall improvement in teachers’ academic chops is the notable decline in the tendency of high-scoring teachers to go to wealthy schools and low-scoring teachers to go to the poorest areas.
Mission accomplished? No. Good progress? Absolutely.
Economists are enamored of objective evaluations–like value-added scores. I’ve long suspected that in the current state of education just having serious evaluations is more important than whether the evaluations are objective or subjective or even whether there is much in the way of financial consequences attached to the evaluations.
Iftikhar Hussain took a look at school inspections in England. Inspectors make short-notice visits to schools and evaluate what they see. While inspectors do have access to student test scores, classroom observations play a large role in their reports. And the inspectors’ reports are made public on the web.
What happens subsequent to a failing grade? Student test scores rise noticeably. The improvement does not come from staff turnover, so it must be that existing teachers and administrators are inspired to do better. In the author’s words
…a fail inspection does not lead to higher teacher turnover relative to a set of control schools. However, teachers at fail schools do appear to respond by improving classroom discipline. Piecing this evidence together suggests that greater effort by the current stock of classroom teachers at fail schools is an important mechanism behind the test score gains reported above.
By the way, in contrast to the changes in failing schools, nothing much changes in schools that get the top rating.
My view is that everyone likes to be seen to be doing a good job. A light public nudging when schools are underperforming inspires many educators to get their act together.
ProfitOfEducation.org is closed for President’s Day. See you later in the week.
The Baccalaureate and Beyond survey checked on 2012 salaries of students who graduated college in 2007-08. I’ve made a little graph comparing median salaries of education majors with others.
Just one more way of seeing that going into education ain’t financially rewarding.
America’s teacher corps is a lot whiter than the student body. I had assumed that the explanation was simply that young people from minority groups were less likely to go to college. Apparently, the explanation is not so simple. The other part of the explanation is that college students from minority groups are less likely than white students to major in education.
None of this says that minority students “should” major in education nor does it speak to the importance of having more minority teachers. But it is an interesting factoid. Here’s the picture I made. A considerably higher fraction of white students major in education than do students from any other group.