There is an irony: the NYU Steinhardt Policy Breakfast is held the same day as long delayed release of Teacher Data Reports – the value-added scores of 18,000 teachers in grades 3-8 in New York City. The NYU series, Teacher Quality/Effectiveness: Defining, Developing, and Assessing Policies and Practices, is both timely, informative and raises more questions that it can answer.
Mary Diez, the Dean of School of Education at Alverno College and Andrew Porter, the Dean of the School of Education University of Pennsylvania struggled to tie teacher effectiveness to teacher education. In the question period I asked:
How would you feel about listing the name of school at which the teacher received their education degree next to their score on the value-added teacher data report?
A sprinkle of applause and laughter, that nervous laughter when you know you hit the right note.
Increasing numbers of teachers start teaching before they take education courses, Teacher for America and other alternate certification programs are growing across the nation. Are they as effective as teachers who complete traditional teacher ed programs? Porter was frank: we do not have enough data to answer many of the crucial questions.
Is the key to effective teaching the innate ability of the teacher or the quality of the teacher education program, the value-added of the program? Are some candidates predisposed to teaching? In other words, Is there a teaching gene?
Do some teacher education programs produce teachers with higher retention rates than others, and, if so, why?
Mary Diez and Kate Walsh have been debating the issue in the periodical forum, In Education Next they joust,
Kate Walsh … demonstrates that traditional education course work, typically required by certification standards, has never been shown … even by it’s more ardent champions to have a payoff in the classroom.
Mary Diez contends … new standards for teacher education will ensure that teachers are well-equipped to work effectively with learners.
Diez’s college, Alverno College, an elite Catholic women’s college has a student enrollment of 2,759 and a full-time faculty of 118, Alverno graduates who enter teaching have a five year 85% retention rate. Of course, their student body is select. Alverno has championed the use of video-taping of student lessons and careful examination of practice before teachers commence their teaching careers.
Quality does count.
Ronald Ferguson in his Certification Test Scores, Teacher Quality and Student Achievement shows us that pre-service certification exams are good predictors of increased scores on standardized exams of students. Of course, we don’t know whether they are more successful in teaching to the test, or, in overall achievement.
We do know that teachers increase in effectiveness as measured by student achievement data for the first 4-5 years and then level off. They do not lose effectiveness as longevity increases. Experienced teachers might bring other skills in dealing with students and parents – we have no evidence, and, too often, on-going professional development is weak or non-existent. Rather than viewing teaching as a collaborative enterprise teachers are isolated in classrooms and “measured” by the test scores of students. Teaching to the test becomes the norm.
Just as we expect student classroom content to be rigorous we should also expect the content of teacher preparation courses to be rigorous. Content counts. You can’t teach math without being expert in math. Education majors should be carefully selected; teaching experiences must begin as early as possible. It’s not about teaching students to pass tests; it’s about teaching students to be life long learners, to be responsible, to incorporate the non-cognitive as well as cognitive skills in their everyday lives.
Nobel Prize winner James Hechman emphasizes the importance of non-cognitive skills,
“Numerous instances can be cited of people with high IQs who fail to achieve success in life because they lacked self-discipline and of people with low IQs who succeeded by virtue of persistence, reliability and self-discipline,” Heckman writes in the book, Inequality in America: What Role for Human Capital Policies? (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press),
“Our analysis challenges the conventional point of view that equates skill with intelligence, and draws on a body of research that demonstrates the importance of both cognitive and non-cognitive skills in determining socioeconomic success,” he said.
Surveys of employers show they most value job stability and dependability in employees, Heckman points out. Other studies show perseverance, dependability and consistency are the most important predictors of students’ academic grades …
I fear that the emphasis on student test scores, frequently on highly flawed tests will continue to drive policy. A huge mistake. Meredith Kolodner at Inside Schools points out the fatal flaws. Hopefully the ship will be righted before we produce a generation of kids who can parse test questions but can’t read, write or think.
Next session in the Policy Breakfast Series: David Steiner, former NYS Commissioner and now Dean of the Ed School at Hunter College and NYU economist Sean Corcoran, the topic: value-added. Should be fun.