Rick Hanuchek and Hank Levin, friends since the sixties, are education economists with hundreds of books and articles bearing their names, and, also, have starkly differing views on education and our economy. On Wednesday night it was a delight to listen to the debate, “Can we put a Price on Student Achievement?: Financial Returns for Academic Success,” at the Roosevelt House. (I’ll post the video of the evening as soon as it is posted). Hanushek painted a disturbing picture, compared to other nations the USA education system is not doing well. Using NAEP and PISA data we’re below the middle of the pack, and New York State is also below the midpoint line. For New York State it is especially disturbing since per capita spending is second highest in the nation. Hanuchek sees only one solution: increasing teacher quality, and, the only path is substantial salary increases for high VAM teachers and firing low VAM teachers. Hanachek’s model converts NAEP and PISA score increases into economic growth over extended periods of time and translates academic gains into economic growth and trillions of dollars. Well beyond my statistical skills!
Levin doesn’t dispute Hanuchek’s data; however, he looks at per capita GDP by nation, and, asks, since the USA is at the top of the OECD nations, what are we doing right? His answer is that non-cognitive factors may, excuse the expression, trump test scores. See an excellent discussion of the impact of non-cognitive skills on the labor market here Levin also questions the use of VAM scores, they are only meaningful over extended periods of time, although, he agrees, teacher quality is always important.
In the question period I asked whether other indicators, such as reducing teenage pregnancy may be closely related to increasing educational outcomes and would be a more fruitful place to impact.
David Steiner moderated the discussion, as usual, my candidate to replace Charlie Rose.
Teacher quality has been a the top of the agenda for decades.
In 1981 Phil Schlecty, a highly regarded education researcher wrote,
* There is considerable evidence that those who choose to major in teacher education are, as a group, less academically able than most other college majors.
* There is some strong evidence that graduates of teacher education institutions are not as academically proficient as other categories of college graduates.
* There is now some evidence to suggest that some teacher education graduates do not perform as well on tests of academic achievement as do many of the students they intend to teach.
Thirty-six years later and we’ re engaging in the same discussion.
The teacher quality question: how do we attract, train and retain the “best and the brightest” prospective teacher candidates?
The new Council on the Accreditation of Education Preparation (replaced NCATE) has set grade point average (GPA) requirements for entry into teacher preparation programs.
The CAEP minimum criteria are a grade point average of 3.0 and a group average performance on nationally normed assessments or substantially equivalent state-normed assessments of mathematical, reading and writing achievement in the top 50 percent of those assessed ….
The CAEP standards for teacher education programs are now codified with concrete admissions standards.
Former New York State Education Commissioner King imposed four exams as a requirement to receive certification in New York State (See my previous blog here), clearly attempting to set a high bar for admission into the ranks of teaching.
We are raising the standards for admission to teaching profession at the same time that student interest in a teaching as a career is decreasing rapidly, teacher education institutions across the state are reporting decreases from 20% to 40% in teacher preparation student enrollment.
Why? Teacher bashing across the nation? The cost of the exams? The negative comments from current candidates and colleges? The King attempt to “raise the bar” very well might have had the unintended consequence of chasing away potential teaching candidates.
Let’s take a deeper dive:
Candidates will have to meet a higher bar, a 3.0 undergraduate GPA for entry into education preparation institutions and pass a battery of exams to gain certification. Do the exit exams assure or predict competence at a high level? We don’t know.
We can divide new entrants into teaching into three categories: stayers, movers and leavers
Researchers have studied these issues at length.
A Harvard study, “Who Stays in Teaching and Why: A Review of the Literature on Teacher Retention,” (February, 2005) reviews hundreds of studies, and concludes the studies raise more questions than they answer. For example: new teachers with mentors have a lower probability of attrition; however, “they cannot conclude the low probability is due to the mentor.” The study asks: “what type of skills do new teachers need most to succeed in classrooms and do mentors support those skills?” And, concludes, more research is required.
Eric Hanuchek and others, “Why Public Schools Lose Teachers” (Spring, 2004) finds,
Schools in urban areas serving economically disadvantaged and minority students appear particularly vulnerable. This paper investigates those factors that affect the probabilities that teachers switch schools or exit the public schools entirely. The results indicate that teacher mobility is much more strongly related to characteristics of the students, particularly race and achievement, than to salary, although salary exerts a modest impact once compensating differentials are taken into account.
Hamilton Langford and others, “Explaining the Short Career of High-Achieving Teachers in Schools with Low-Performing Students,” (January, 2004),
Low achieving students often are taught by the least qualified teachers, these disparities begin when teachers take their first jobs and in urban areas they are worsened by teacher subsequent decisions to transfer and quit. Such quits and transfers increase disparities … more qualified teachers are substantially more likely to leave schools having the lowest achieving students …. non-pecuniary job characteristics such as class size preparation time, facilities, student characteristics and school leadership also effect teacher decisions.
Susan Moore Johnson, “Pursuing a Sense of Success,” (January, 2003)
Teachers who felt successful with students and whose schools were organized to support them in their teaching—providing collegial interaction, opportunities for growth, appropriate assignments, adequate resources, and school wide structures supporting student learning—were more likely to stay in their schools, and in teaching, than teachers whose schools were not so organized.
Geoffrey Borman, “Teacher Attrition and Retention: A Meta-Analytic and Narrative Review of the Research” (January, 2017)
Personal characteristics of teachers are important predictors of turnover. Attributes of teachers’ schools, including organizational characteristics, student body composition, and resources (instructional spending and teacher salaries), are also key moderators. The evidence suggests that attrition from teaching is (a) not necessarily “healthy” turnover, (b) influenced by various personal and professional factors that change across teachers’ career paths, (c) more strongly moderated by characteristics of teachers’ work conditions than previously noted in the literature, and (d) a problem that can be addressed through policies and initiatives.
“A Longitudinal Study of Persisting and Nonpersisting Teachers’ Academic and Personal Characteristics,” Marso and Pigge (July, 2010)
The candidates’ …. level of academic aptitude, basic academic skills, and expected effectiveness as future teachers were found not to be associated with their degree of persistence. … The authors conclude that the making of teachers appears to be a high-risk and costly business when just 29% of a class of candidates makes the transition to full-time teaching.
There is a great deal that we don’t know, what do we know?
* We know that shrinking pool of prospective teachers will lead to teacher shortages.
* We know that more effective teachers are more likely to move to higher achieving schools and/or leave teaching
* We know that conditions within schools, school cultures, play an important role in teacher retention
* We suspect that teaching non-cognitive skills may be as important as test scores
I respect, admire and read the work of Eric Hanuchek; however, “rewarding” highly effective VAM teachers with merit pay and firing low VAM teachers is not a realistic path. As Hank Levin argues, we’re not even certain that higher scores on national tests lead to higher economic growth for nations.
I was visiting a middle school next to a housing project famous for hand gun violence. The school was on the third floor, the first two floors, teaching yelling, kids wandering the hall. As I walked out onto the third floor a student walked up to me, introduced himself, shook hands, and asked if he could assist me. In the office I praised the student, the secretary told me that all student knew to introduce themselves to strangers.
How important is that non-cognitive skill?