What is the “New Teacher” Crisis? Should We Set High Barriers to Becoming a Teacher or Figure Out How to Retain New Teachers? Exploring the Dunning -Kruger Syndrome

The Dunning-Kruger effect, named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University, occurs where people fail to adequately assess their level of competence — or specifically, their incompetence — at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. This lack of awareness is attributed to their lower level of competence robbing them of the ability to critically analyze their performance, leading to a significant overestimate of themselves.

The State Education Department, under former commissioner King and de facto commissioner Wagner have made decisions that I have to believe are due to a Dunning-Kruger effect, they make no sense otherwise.

The latest are the decisions relating to “raising the bar” for prospective teachers by creating unproven testing obstacles.

The first wave of education reform in New York City was intended to move from patronage hiring to hiring based upon qualifications. The creation of the Board of Examiners, a quasi-independent board created examinations for teachers and supervisors and promulgated rank-ordered lists. Teachers who received passing grades were appointed to positions in schools pursuant to their grade: highest grade to the lowest passing grade. For seventy years the hiring of teachers was a meritocracy; I remember sitting in the gymnasium at Brooklyn Tech High School for hours poring over questions and writing a series of essays. Months later I was grilled by a panel of examiners, it seems like it took hours, and, eventually a list was posted in the newspaper listing the candidates who passed the exam, with their grade. Yes, a form of public shaming, we survived.

In the 60’s the Board of Examiners became the subject of increasing criticism, with a rising civil rights movement racial disparities in pass/fail rates challenged the validity of the tests: were the tests actually job-related?

In the 1972 the federal courts ruled the Board of Examiners tests unconstitutional. (Read the Court of Appeal decision here ), the Chancellor at the time supported the decision of the trial court,

In a memorandum to the Board of Education, quoted by Judge Mansfield in his opinion, Chancellor Scribner stated that to defend against plaintiffs’ case,

“… would require that I both violate my own professional beliefs and defend a system of personnel selection and promotion which I no longer believe to be workable.”

From the mid-seventies into the 90’s New York City required a 20-minute interview. New York State instituted a two-exam system: the LAST and the ACT-W, passing rates continued to increase; today they are in the high 90th percentiles.

A recent study conducted by Hemp Langford of SUNY/Albany and other scholars reviewed teacher quality,

We analyze 25 years of data on the academic ability of teachers in New York State and document that since 1999 the academic ability of both individuals certified and those entering teaching has steadily increased. These gains are widespread and have resulted in a substantial narrowing of the differences in teacher academic ability between high- and low-poverty schools and between White and minority teachers. We interpret these gains as evidence that the status of teaching is improving.

Unfortunately New York State jumped on the “raise the bar” bandwagon without reviewing teacher quality within the state. At the March 17th Regents Meeting the de facto commissioner, defending the new hyper-testing requirements said,

“I think we all want … to send a very clear message that it should be difficult to enter the profession.”

No. I think the “very clear message” we want to send; New York State is preparing highly qualified students to enter the profession. “Difficult” does not assure quality.

The State Ed Department has certainly made it difficult to become a teacher, with no assurances that the hurtles will improve the quality of the workforce.

Prospective teachers in New York State are now required to pass four separate examinations: edTPA, the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST), the Educating All Students (EAS) test and the Content Specialty Test (CST) in order to receive their initial teaching certificate.

The edTPA, created by Stanford University and administered and scored by Pearson,

Evidence of a candidate’s ability to teach is drawn from a subject-specific learning segment of 3-5 lessons from a unit of instruction taught to one class of students. Materials assessed as part of the edTPA process include video clips of instruction, lesson plans, student work samples, analysis of student learning, and reflective commentaries. Based on the submitted evidence, which is reviewed by trained scorers, faculty and candidates can discuss the impact of candidates’ teaching performance on student learning and determine ways to improve teaching. Faculty can analyze evidence of candidate performance to guide decision-making about program revision. State education agencies may use edTPA scores for licensure and accreditation

The Academic Literacy and Skills Test (ALAST) is a 210-minute, computer-based exam.

[The teacher candidate] reads a complex informational and narrative text and demonstrates command of key ideas and details in the text … makes logical inferences based on textual evidence … delineates and evaluates the argument and specific claims in a text.

The ALST consists of a selected response section and constructed responses, two focused responses and one extended response.

The Educating All Students (EAS) test is a 135-minute, computer-based exam “consisting of selected response items based on scenario-based responses … the competencies include Diverse Student Populations, English Language Learners, Students with Disabilities, Teacher Responsibilities and School-Home Relationships.”

The Content Specialty Test (CST) is a series of tests in about fifty different areas, the Multi-Subject Grades 1-6 (Common Branches) is a computer-based test:

Part One: Literacy and English Language Arts, Part Two: 40 selected-response items and a constructed response item in Mathematics: Part Three: 40 selected-response items and one constructed response item in Arts and Sciences, tests can be taken in three separate sections or at one time: 5 hours and 15 minutes.

About ten hours of actual testing time and days and days preparing for and constructing the video segment of the edTPA.

The tests and the test preparation materials cost the student about a thousand dollars.

Is the any evidence that the battery of testing will produce more qualified teachers and better student outcomes? The answer is no.

There is general agreement that the edTPA is valuable and should be integrated into college programs; “clinically-rich” programs incorporate a great deal of actual in-class practice teaching, and, a few colleges, very few, use videos as reflective teaching-learning tools for teacher candidates.

I asked the Director of Field Services in a teacher education program if he saw any relationship between the ALAST and EAS exams and teacher quality. His answer, “I’m baffled, top students failed and marginal students passed, it makes no sense to me.”

The State Education folks clearly suffer from Dunning-Kruger Syndrome; they are ignoring mountains of evidence insisting that they are correct.

In New York City 35% of new teachers leave within five years and I’m sure the same number accrues in inner city high poverty school districts across the state; teachers leave high poverty schools at much more accelerated rates than teachers in high achieving schools.

The core of the teacher issue is teacher retention in schools with the lowest academic achievement.

Sadly the rush to “test to teacher excellence” appears to be driving away prospective teachers, enrollment in teacher preparation programs across the state is sharply down.

While the folks in charge constantly beat the diversity drums, they agree that we should attract a more diverse teaching workforce; however, the failure rates on the ALAST and the EAS are significantly higher among black and Hispanic test takers. The exam system is the subject of a lengthy litigation (Gulino v Board of Education and State Education) that is nearing a conclusion; the federal court could rule the exams are discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Yes, I understand Finland only selects teachers from the top ten percent of applicants, Finland is also a nation with almost no childhood poverty and income equality, within their workforce teachers are well-paid. If we dragged Finnish teachers across the pond and dumped them in Rochester or East New York we would not see magic.

Rather than address the problem, attracting the right candidates, providing high quality teacher preparation programs based in evidence, supporting new teachers over their first few years, we are discouraging new applicants, using “tests” that are unproven, not valid or reliable and ignoring the discouraging exit of new teachers, from both the profession and from high needs schools.

Is there a vaccine to cure Dunning-Kruger Syndrome?

3 responses to “What is the “New Teacher” Crisis? Should We Set High Barriers to Becoming a Teacher or Figure Out How to Retain New Teachers? Exploring the Dunning -Kruger Syndrome

  1. Excellent points! I had heard that 50% of new teachers nationwide leave the profession within their first five years. (NYC is ahead of the curve if it is only losing 35%.) This is so even though the learning curve for achieving mastery is such that these teachers may be at or near the top of their game by the time they leave. There needs to be an exit poll. When asked, many teachers cite the way they are treated and the deplorable conditions under which they have to work as reasons for moving on. Contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with pay. They knew the pay scale going in.


  2. rachel de aragon

    Well said! Why are politicians , and not educators, making al the talking points/? New York City/ and NY State is the home to some of the most well regarded graduate institutions with specialties in the cognitive and pedagogical sciences. Why are these folks never asked their opinions? Why are they not advising the Regents? Why are these conversations always with the educators peering in in the form of “teacher’s opinion” and never in leadership roles? That would be the reform I would like to see.


  3. I am one of them who took that LAST 20 times and still did not past the test. This test taking thing brook my bank for the years i have been trying to past these test. I though something was wrong with me until i start talking to different type of people and found out that the same thing was happening to them. I just got back the score from the student with disabilities and it says score 455 when i took it last September they said that i fail it by 5 points. I believe i past that test last year but because they know that the test were changing making them harder and cost more money they said that i failed.


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