Welcome to the Profit of Education website. Continuing the conversation begun in the book Profit of Education, we discuss the latest economic evidence on education reform.

Student teaching: Can we leverage the recent teacher “shortage” to students’ advantage?

Today’s post appeared in THE BROWN CENTER CHALKBOARD at the Brookings Institution.

A possible teacher shortage has been much in the news—in California, for instance, the number of new credentials has fallen by about half since 2004, while K-12 enrollment stayed roughly flat. (Take a look at Paul Bruno’s July Chalkboard.) Whether this is a transient, post-Great Recession blip, or if it’s a major trend is not yet clear. It’s hard to say just yet what fewer teacher candidates means for teacher quality, because we don’t know much about how the characteristics of people getting certified has changed, or whether or not schools are having more trouble finding good candidates. However, I’d argue that the drop-off in credentials actually creates an opportunity to raise teacher quality through another channel: improvements in student teaching.

A chance to trade off lower quantity for higher quality

As I discuss below, evidence suggests that a high-quality student teaching experience is valuable in getting a new teacher off to the right start. But people who’ve looked at the question tell me that practice teaching is currently over-subscribed and under-managed—there aren’t enough high-quality slots available, and as I describe below, standards are low.  The current drop in the number of new teaching credentials, at least some of which have historically gone to people who never end up teaching, makes it more likely that new teachers will get the chance to learn from a top-notch mentor.

In short: Fewer teacher candidates vying for limited student teaching slots could mean better prepared newbie teachers. If education programs take the opportunity to shore up their requirements, the teacher “shortage” could in part translate into a tradeoff of smaller quantity for higher quality.

Student teaching: Exploring the data (and the lack thereof)

A first question might be “Is a high-quality student teacher experience important?” Very little data exists on student teaching experiences and outcomes. But, the available scientific evidence on the topic suggests that the answer is yes.

Donald Boyd and colleagues looked at teachers in New York City schools. They found that oversight of student teaching assignments by a teacher candidate’s program led to notably better outcomes (measured by value-added scores) in the first year of teaching. “Oversight” here meant that the cooperating teacher had a minimum amount of teaching experience and was selected by the program, and that a program supervisor made at least five observations of the student teaching. The gain from oversight held for both math outcomes and English language arts. Unsurprisingly, the effect did not seem to persist into the candidate’s second year on the job.

Boyd and colleagues also looked at whether simply having any student teaching experience at all mattered. Student teaching did matter for the first year of teaching math, with results being mostly inconclusive for English language arts.

State regulations of student teaching

Now, given that good practice teaching is valuable, do all students in education programs get such an experience? The answer appears to be no.

Here too, the data is very limited. I’ve put together a few pieces that are available; the news is not reassuring.

I had assumed practice teaching was a more-or-less universal requirement. (I was wrong.) Here are three questions about state regulations. See what your guesses are before looking at the answers.

How many states require:

  1. Student-teacher placements of at least 10 weeks?
  2. Placements represent a full-time commitment for the student equal to at least 12 credit hours?
  3. Supervising teacher must have at least three years of experience?

The answers, from the National Center on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) “Student Teaching in the United States”:

  1. 10 week placements: 27 states.
  2. At least 12 credit hours: 18 states.
  3. Experienced cooperating teacher: 11 states.

State regulations don’t necessarily describe actual practice, of course. Regulations are a minimum that we expect many programs to exceed. For a more direct look at what education schools do, I looked at a different metric on student teaching. Using NCTQ data, I calculated what fraction of education programs in each state are rated by the NCTQ as requiring a “capable mentor” for student teachers. (The NCTQ defines a “capable mentor” as one “possessing demonstrated mentorship skill or having taken “a substantial mentorship course/”) The following map ranks each state from yellow (most programs do require a capable mentor) to blue (they don’t).

Fraction of programs requiring capable mentors for student teachers

Source: NCTQ, personal communication

One doesn’t see a whole lot of yellow or orange.

Making the tradeoff

It’s tough to find qualified teachers to mentor candidates through the vital step of practice teaching. If we find ourselves training fewer teacher candidates, education schools should presumably have a better shot at arranging high-quality practice teaching placements. This is especially true for schools that train a fair number of undergraduates who do not end up taking teaching positions. The available good practice teaching positions won’t have to be spread quite so thin.

When it comes to teaching, most people will argue that quality is more important than quantity. If having fewer students vying for teaching posts increases the fraction of new teachers who start their career coming off a well-mentored student teaching experience, the result of a teacher “shortage” might be less worrisome than people think.

Editor’s note: This blog post was updated on October 15, 2015 with a new version of the included map. 

 

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Summer!

ProfitOfEducation is going on break for the summer. Hope to see you back in the new school year!

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College graduation

While this blog is mostly about K-12 education, some of the rhetoric you hear nowadays tends toward the idea that the goal of K-12 is “college readiness.” Regardless of whether you’re in agreement with “college readiness” as an over-riding goal, I’d like to point out that being ready to start college is an entirely different kettle of fish from being ready to complete college.

Here’s a graph showing the fraction of students who complete a 4-year degree within 5 years of having started a 4-year college, the horizontal axis giving the year in which the students entered college.

5 year graduation rates

You’ll see that the numbers are up. But that means that about half of entering men, and a moderately higher fraction of women, actually complete their degree. More than a third don’t.

What do you think of the following: High schools should not only report how many of their students they send off to college; they should also report how many complete their degree.

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2 Responses to College graduation

  1. MEMO says:

    High Schools already can and do keep these stats on the students that graduate. Most high schools use Naviance- and to keep stats on where the students apply, where they are accepted, what type of aid is offered, where the student finally accepts to attend , and they keep track of the student’s enrollment, major, credits taken each semester, etc… Most high schools do not reveal that they continue to monitor former students. And few , if any, ever ask permission from students or parents. The BULLY school mandate that kids fill out personality surveys, financial aid questions, parental bio- name, dates of birth, education, employer, etc.. the schools create accounts (like Google Mail, Google Education, College Board, Naviance) for the student to use and therefore own the date. Try to ask your high school who has access to the data, what exactly the privacy policies are, who owns the data, how is it stored, can it be deleted, or destroyed? The answers will make you sick.

  2. Nordy says:

    What do you think of the following: High schools should not only report how many of their students they send off to college; they should also report how many complete their degree.

    Would that really tell you anything about the education provided by the high school? My sense (would like to have hard data to back up), is that most college dropouts are due to external, non-academic factors. I don’t know that a high school should be held responsible if a former student is unable to pay bills, or develops a drinking problem.

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Large districts

Here’s a factoid that I hadn’t known. Public school students are quite a bit more likely to attend school in a large school district than was true in the past. I’ve made a little chart showing the percentage of students in districts with over 10,000 pupils.

students in large districts

In 1979, 46 percent of students were in large districts. Today (well 2011, which is the latest data), the number has risen to 55 percent. At the same time, the number of very small school districts–those with fewer than 300 kids–has fallen by a third.

Much of this may just be a consequence of population growth. To some extent we’d expect all districts to have more students in the past. It turns out that there’s something more than that going on, as the number of school districts has fallen 15 percent over the same period.

I’m pretty sure that closing very small districts is mostly a good thing. They’re probably too small to be efficient. But is it a good idea to have more students in mega-districts? Or is there a sweet spot somewhere in-between tiny and mega?

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Applicant Hiring vs Performance

I had the pleasure this week of hearing Jonah Rockoff talk about a paper he’s written with several colleagues, “Teacher Applicant Hiring and Teacher Performance: Evidence from DC Public Schools.” My impression is that in general school districts do a lousy job of selecting the best future teachers from the available applicant pool. Or maybe it would be more accurate to that some districts do well at this and others do a terrible job. From the researcher’s vantage, it’s been very hard to identify factors that do a good job of predicting who’s going to be a good teacher. That makes it hard to give advice to school districts.

Rockoff and colleagues were given access to hiring data on a large number of applicants to Washington, DC schools. They also were given data on how well hired applicant performed according to DC’s Impact rating system. What they found was that DC had collected data on several factors that did a pretty good job of predicting who would turn out to be a good teacher, but scores on these factors played very little role in deciding who would actually be hired.

Here are some things that do predict teacher success according to the DC data:

  • Undergraduate academic performance, including
    • GPA
    • SAT/ACT scores
    • college selectivity
  • Application data, including
    • score on a subject-specific written essay
    • interview score
    • teaching audition

But perhaps the most interesting predictor is the score on what’s called the “Haberman test.” A number of years ago, Martin Haberman interviewed good teachers and then created a multiple choice test intended to pick out applicants with attitudes that matched those of the good teachers. Rockoff and coauthors find that the Haberman test really does do a good job of predicting teacher success. And oh yeah, the test is available on the web and costs all of five dollars to administer.

So it seems that schools could do a better job of picking good teachers with relatively little difficulty. Along those lines, I’ll close with the opening quote from the paper.

The best means of improving a school system is to improve its teachers. One of the most effective means of improving the teacher corps is by wise selection.

-Ervin Eugene Lewis, Superintendent of Schools, Flint, Michigan, 1925

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8 Responses to Applicant Hiring vs Performance

  1. RT @CharlesBarone: Schools could do a better job of picking good teachers with relatively little difficulty. HT @MrPABruno http://t.co/ogqs…

  2. RT @MrPABruno: “it seems that schools could do a better job of picking good teachers with relatively little difficulty” http://t.co/z3D5NjN…

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Why do private schools need so many new teachers?

Roughly 12 percent of teachers work in private schools. But more than twice that fraction of new teachers, 28 percent, work in private schools. (Numbers are from the Digest of Education Statistics. They’re probably not perfect, but I suspect they’re close.)

All vs new teachers

Why do private schools have to hire relatively more teachers? It’s not that private schools are growing faster than public schools. It’s not that private school teachers move around more, because a move from one private school to another doesn’t count as being “new” in the government data.

My guess is that being a private school teacher isn’t so attractive as being a public school teacher (on average, obviously lots of exceptions)–so there’s just more turnover. Alternatively, it could be that private schools kick out more teachers and so need to do more hiring. Surely that can’t account for such a huge difference.

There’s no reason why the rate of new teacher hiring should be exactly the same for public and private schools. But this different?

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2 Responses to Why do private schools need so many new teachers?

  1. “12% of teachers work in private schools…more than 2x that fraction of new teachers, 28%, work in private schools” http://t.co/eiLDYIpMev

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Teacher attrition

The Department of Education has a “First Look” study out, “Public School Teacher Attrition and Mobility in the First Five Years,” with somewhat surprising numbers on teacher attrition. (Thanks to NCTQ for the link.) The headline number is that only 17 percent of teachers who began in 2007-08 had left teaching by 2011-08. That’s very surprisingly low. A comment below on why I’m not sure I believe it. But first, a quick picture relating the numbers to one of my favorite topics–teacher salaries.

teacher attrition iesSo low paid teachers are much more likely to move out of teaching. By the end of the study the difference was just short of two-to-one.

However, one caveat is called for in all this. About three-quarters of teachers surveyed responded to the questionnaire in the first year. By the fifth wave, the response rate was only 56 percent. Do you think those who didn’t respond were disproportionately those who left teaching? I do. That means that headline 17 percent dropout rate could be way, way off. I’ve presented the graph above on the theory that the survey errors for low-paid and better-paid teachers might not be too different. In other words, I suspect both lines below are lower than the truth, but maybe the gap between the two isn’t too far off.

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Performance of charter vs traditional public schools

Ladd, Clotfelter, and Holbein offer new measures comparing the performance of charter schools to traditional public schools in North Carolina. Here’s their picture for math.

Ladd Clotfelter NC charter

So charter schools used to be a little behind and now they perform more or less the same as other public schools.

In other words, taken as a group charter schools are neither a disaster nor a panacea.

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  1. “neither a disaster nor a panacea” but charters seem to have improved over time relative to district schools (in NC). http://t.co/WfLmxxlDme

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The demand for new teachers

The number of new teachers hired peaked just before the Great Recession. Hiring has since plummeted 25 percent.

hiring of new teachers

Government projections don’t suggest a huge rebound, and my guess is that the government numbers may be a smidgen high because government projections of the number of new students are likely to be too high.

Should someone be rethinking how many students are being enrolled in ed schools?

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Does the district matter?

We’re all pretty sure that schools in some districts are better than those in other districts. There are resource differences and there are differences in who will be your kid’s companions. But it’s hard to prove that differences are due to the schools. Maybe there are other differences in neighborhoods? Maybe it’s just that some districts attract better students than others.

Peter Bergman has made clever use of a school district lottery to measure the effects of going to a “good” district. A court-ordered desegregation program set aside spaces for K-3 students living in a relatively poor Northern California district to attend one of several surrounding wealthy districts. In the poor district, 2/3rds of students had limited English proficiency, 20 percent of families were below the poverty line, students were 90%+ minority, and under half of parents had graduated high school. The wealthy districts–think Stanford University and environs–had almost all English-proficient students, hardly any families below the poverty line or without parental high school diplomas, and were pretty much entirely white and Asian.

Unsurprisingly, transfer slots were way oversubscribed. Bergman compared college enrollment of lottery winners to enrollment of students who applied but didn’t win a transfer ticket. The basic answer is that getting into the better school district increased the probability of attending college by 7 percentage points–a lot compared to the base attendance rate of 32 percent. (Note that lottery winners did not necessarily stay in the better district for their entire school career.)

Bergman also offers some more nuanced results. The improvement in college attendance is concentrated in two-year schools, no real change in four-year attendance. Most of the action is for boys rather than girls and more for black students than for Hispanic students.

My take is that parents who work to get their kids into better districts know what they’re doing.

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  1. @Tim_10_ber says:

    RT @MrPABruno: “My take is that parents who work to get their kids into better districts know what they’re doing.” http://t.co/1DX8OUPmwi

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