Friday, June 23, 2006

Making the case for effective teaching

Teacher Quality
© 2006 Editorial Projects in Education
Education Week

Research shows that good teaching matters.

Effective teachers are capable of inspiring significantly greater learning gains in their students when compared with their weaker colleagues. Value-added assessment studies in Tennessee show that the difference in achievement between students who attended classes taught by high-quality versus those taught by low-quality teachers for three consecutive years is sizeable: approximately 50 percentile points on standardized tests (Sanders & Rivers, 1996). Such studies determine students' average annual rates of improvement, as measured by test scores. They estimate how much value a teacher has contributed to student achievement, factoring in the gains the student was expected to make based on past performance (The Teaching Commission, 2004; Crane, 2002). In Texas, economists have amassed a body of work that further emphasizes the measurable influence that teachers have on student performance (Hanushek, Kain & Rivkin, 1998).

Even so, the specific characteristics that constitute an effective teacher are hotly debated. Teacher quality is extremely difficult to measure. As a result, most studies resort to measurable teacher inputs such as certification, academic degrees, and years of experience. Some studies that have correlated teacher test scores on basic skills tests and college entrance exams with the scores of their students on standardized tests have found that high-scoring teachers are more likely to elicit significant gains in student achievement than their lower-scoring counterparts (Ferguson, 1998; Ferguson & Ladd, 1996; Strauss & Sawyer, 1986).

Deep content-area knowledge is also an attribute of teachers that seems to have a positive impact on student achievement (Monk, 1994). This appears especially true for science and mathematics teachers. A review of research by the Education Commission of the States found moderate support for the importance that teachers be well-versed in their subjects. The review points out, however, that the research is not detailed enough to clarify how much subject matter is critical for teaching specific course levels and grades. The same review found less support for the importance of pedagogical coursework or field experiences for teachers, although courses focused on how best to teach a particular subject may contribute to effective teaching (Allen, 2003).

Teaching experience also appears to have an influence on student achievement. Teachers with less teaching experience typically produce smaller learning gains in their students compared with more seasoned teachers (Fetler, 1999; Murnane & Phillips, 1981). However, most of those studies have also discovered that the benefits of experience level off after the first five or so years of teaching.

There is a lot less consensus about certification. Some reports claim that certified teachers are no better in practice than uncertified instructors (Abell Foundation, 2001) while others assert that certification is an important step in ensuring quality teaching (Darling-Hammond, 2002). A review of research found that certification in a particular subject area, in this case, mathematics, may result in more effective teaching (Wayne & Youngs, 2003). One recent and controversial study found that students of certified instructors out-performed students of uncertified teachers (Laczko-Kerr & Berliner, 2002); however, reviews have called into question the methodology and results of the study (Freedman, 2002; Imai, 2002).

Regardless of the mixed research findings, teacher quality is a priority area in education policy. The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires that by the end of the 2005-06 school year, every teacher working in a public school must be “highly qualified”—meaning that a teacher is certified and has demonstrated proficiency in his or her subject matter, by having majored in the subject in college, passing a subject-knowledge test, or obtaining advanced certification in the subject. Veteran teachers have the additional option of proving their subject-matter expertise though a state-determined high, objective, and uniform standard of evaluation.
A report by the Council of Chief State School Officers estimated, using data from the 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, that only about two-thirds of secondary teachers in science and math would have been considered “highly qualified” (Blank, 2003). Education Week’s annual report on state education policies, Quality Counts 2004, found that 34 states and the District of Columbia currently require high school teachers to pass a subject-knowledge test in order to receive beginning-teacher licenses. Twenty-eight states require all of their high school teachers to have majored in college in the subject they teach.

To meet the challenge of placing a highly qualified teacher in every classroom, some states are strengthening their traditional teacher-preparation programs and developing systems to hold those programs accountable. Such programs often come under fire for curricula marked by a lack of rigor and research-based instruction (Steiner, 2003).

The federal government currently requires states to report the pass rates on teacher licensing exams for all of their teacher education institutions. However, the pass rates vary in meaningfulness because the standards for determining pass rates differ from state to state. Quality Counts 2004 shows that 12 states have taken their accountability systems a step further by holding their teacher-training programs accountable for the performance of their graduates in a classroom setting. The report also found that, while 39 states and the District of Columbia identify low-performing teacher-training programs, 26 had not yet designated a single program as low-performing for the 2002-03 school year.

Many schools have also introduced induction and mentoring programs to address high attrition rates and improve the practice of their inexperienced teachers. Fifteen states require and finance mentoring programs for all new teachers (Quality Counts, 2004). Other states and districts are attempting to raise teacher salaries and improve working conditions in an effort to curb early departures.

Some experts and researchers argue that, while efforts to improve teacher quality as a whole are necessary, significant attention should be focused on the disparities between high- and low-need schools. Quality Counts 2003: "If I Can't Learn From You...", which looked at state efforts to recruit and retain teachers, found that while students in high-poverty and high-minority schools are receiving instruction from less-qualified teachers on a variety of measures, states and districts are doing little in the way of targeting recruitment and retention efforts to find effective teachers for the students who need them the most.


Abell Foundation, “Teacher Certification Reconsidered: Stumbling for Quality,” 2001.

Allen, M., "Eight Questions on Teacher Preparation: What Does the Research Say?," Education Commission of the States, 2003.

Blank, R.K., “Meeting NCLB Goals for Highly Qualified Teachers: Estimates by State from Survey Data,” Council of Chief State School Officers, 2003, October.

Crane, J., “The Promise of Value-Added Testing,” Progressive Policy Institute, 2002, November.

Darling-Hammond, L., “Research and Rhetoric on Teacher Certification: A Response to ‘Teacher Certification Reconsidered,’” Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10 (36), 2002.

Education Week, Quality Counts 2004: Count Me In Jan. 8, 2004.

Education Week, Quality Counts 2003: ‘If I Can’t Learn from You…,’” Jan. 9, 2003.

Ferguson, R.F., “Teachers’ Perceptions and Expectations and the Black-White Test Score Gap,” In Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips (Eds.), The Black-White Test Score Gap and Can Schools Narrow the Black-White Test Score Gap? pp. 273-374, Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1998.

Ferguson, R.F. and Ladd, H.F., “How and Why Money Matters: An Analysis of Alabama Schools,” In Helen F. Ladd (Ed.), Holding Schools Accountable: Performance Based Reform in Education, Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1996.

Fetler, M., “High School Staff Characteristics and Mathematics Test Results,” Education Policy Analysis Archives, 7 (9), 1999.

Freedman, P., “Memo to Wendy Kopp, President, Teach For America, re: Laczcko, Kerr Berliner study,” 2002.

Hanushek, E.A., Kain, J.F., and Rivkin, S.G., “Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement,” (NBER Working Paper No. w6691), National Bureau of Economic Research, 1998, August.

Imai, K., “Comments on Laczko-Kerr, I. and Berliner, D. C. The Effectiveness of Teach for America and Other Under-certified Teachers on Student Academic Achievement: A Case of Harmful Public Policy,” Harvard University, Department of Government, 2002.

Laczko-Kerr, I., and Berliner, D.C., “The Effectiveness of "Teach for America" and Other Under-certified Teachers on Student Academic Achievement: A Case of Harmful Public Policy,” Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10 (37), 2002.

Monk, D.H., “Subject Matter Preparation of Secondary Mathematics and Science Teachers and Student Achievement,” Economics of Education Review, 13 (2), pp.125-145, 1994.

Murnane, R.J. and Phillips, B.R., “Learning By Doing, Vintage, and Selection: Three Pieces of the Puzzle Relating Teaching Experience and Teaching Performance,” Economics of Education Review, 1 (4), pp. 453-465, 1981.

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, (the complete text).

Sanders, W.L. and Rivers, J.C., “Cumulative and Residual Effects of Teachers on Future Student Academic Achievement,” Knoxville, University of Tennessee Value-Added Research and Assessment Center, 1996.

Steiner, D., “Preparing Teachers: Are American Schools of Education Up to the Task?,” Paper presented at the conference, “A Qualified Teacher in Every Classroom: Appraising Old Answers and New Ideas,” hosted by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and the Progressive Policy Institute, 2003, October.

Strauss, R.P. and Sawyer, E.A., “Some New Evidence on Teacher and Student Competencies,” Economics of Education Review, 5 (1), pp. 41-48, 1986.

The Teaching Commission, “Teaching at Risk: A Call to Action,” 2004.

Wayne, A.J. and Youngs, P., “Teacher Characteristics and Student Achievement Gains: A Review,” Review of Educational Research, 73 (1), pp. 89-122, 2003.

© 2006 Editorial Projects in Education


For another discussion on teacher quality, check out a post by Dennis Fermoyle on his blog, From the Trenches of Public Ed.


Friday, June 16, 2006

The waning of America's higher education

U.S. may be losing global edge, study suggests

According to a new report, America’s competitive edge in higher education is waning. The U.S. has formidable rates when it comes to students entering postsecondary education, but declining rates of actual degree attainment. In 2002, the U.S. ranked only 13th in the percent of the population that enters postsecondary education and then completes a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Much of the decline seems to be taking place in a number of major states with large populations. reports on the study, conducted by the University of California, Berkeley.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Quote of the week

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
-- Alvin Toffler

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A pair of magical hands

Former trucker teaches surgery

James Crudup, an ex-trucker with roots in Mississippi, is revered by many doctors. Crudup, who never went to college, who was never allowed to operate on a human, was considered the best surgeon in the University of Michigan medical school. And he's credited with training some of the world's most reknown specialists. The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, MS, tells this American story.

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Building parent relationships

Strategies from a teacher

Relationship building is important in every profession, and it is certainly key to being a good educator. Kids succeed when the school and home work as partners.

If you've never been a classroom instructor, then you'll never truly understand the balancing act teachers face each day - dealing with "boisterous" students, cranky parents, staying on schedule when it comes to curriculum, grading reams of papers and completing an abundance of other paperwork.

Building and maintaining relationships with parents takes time. So how can busy teachers find the time, and why should they do it? Elementaryhistoryteacher, publisher of History Is Elementary, offers some ideas. Here is an excerpt from a recent post.

Relationship building….that’s my mission. I think I already have some good pieces of the puzzle in place, however, I need to get over myself and call, call again, and call some more. Once I have my rosters in a few short weeks I need to call and introduce myself. I need to prepare some questions during my time off that well help me keep the conversation focused on their child and his or her needs as a student. What do you like best about your child? What is your child’s strengths? What discipline strategies do you follow at home? Who is at home when your child arrives? Who will be helping your child with his/her homework? I need to note previous low grades, previous low test scores, previous excessive absences or tardies and address them in a positive manner. I need to make myself available in this introductory phone call for questions the parent may have. Phone calls should continue through the first nine weeks and on into the year. Phone calls should not be made just when there is a problem. I believe that I could take my rosters and divide up the phone calling so that it would manageable for my busy schedule throughout each nine week period.

Another strategy to continue building and maintain good relationships all year long would be to continue with my weekly or bi-weekly newsletter. This could be sent home as before, but this time I could employ the students to help of papers and they might be more willing to get it home when they should. I also would like to send the newsletter by email when possible and make it available on line. I want to develop a classroom blog where parents could see daily updates on what we are doing the classroom as well as pictures that could be uploaded for viewing. Student work could be posted and my writers could have their works published.

I believe that I have here a good framework for cementing good relationships with parents. The key is communication. I am sure that I will still have a few parents balk at my overtures for a good relationship, but many more can be brought on board by a simple phone call. I am the teacher, and there really is no excuse not to pursue relationships.

Hopefully, parents will show appreciation for our blogging friend's efforts. To read Elementaryhistoryteacher's entire post, click here.

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Entering college without a high school diploma

Students seek higher education through the back door

A growing number of colleges nationwide are accepting students who have not graduated from high school. Nearly 400,000 students without high school diplomas are enrolled in colleges, according to a survey by the U.S. Education Department conducted in 2003–2004.

In an age of elevated dropout rates, observers note that the growth is fueling a debate over whether the students should be in college at all and if state financial aid programs should help pay their way. Karen Arenson reports for the New York Times.

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Could adults work in this environment?

Nearly one-third of black students report serious disruptions and distractions

If an adult were forced to work in an environment where disrespect, bad language, fighting, drug and alcohol abuse and other bad behaviors are inflicted by a relative few, but tolerated or winked at by management, it might be considered a "hostile workplace," a new report released by the nonpartisan research organization Public Agenda points out.

Substantial numbers of the nation's black and Hispanic students report conditions like these in their schools, according to a Public Agenda national survey of parents, middle and high school students and teachers. Asked to rate their schools on key academic and social dimensions -– resources, promotion policies, dropout rates, truancy, fighting, drug and alcohol abuse and others -- black and Hispanic students are more likely than their white counterparts to report "very serious" problems in nearly every category.

In "Reality Check 2006: How Black and Hispanic Families Rate Their Schools" (the second report issued this year in the Reality Check 2006 series), Public Agenda found that American students have much in common regardless of racial or ethnic background. Majorities of all students back higher standards, say their teachers do a good job in most respects, and express some level of concern about lack of respect, profanity, and drugs and alcohol abuse in their schools. But for minority kids, academic problems like high dropout rates and kids getting passed through the system without learning, and social issues like profanity, disrespect for teachers and drug and alcohol abuse are far more prevalent and "serious" in their schools. According to the report, about 3 in 10 black youngsters attend schools with considerable turmoil:

30% of black students report that teachers spend more time trying to keep order than teaching

30% say their school has very serious problems with drug and alcohol abuse

32% report very serious problems with fighting and weapons

33% say their school is not consistent in enforcing discipline and behavior rules

37% say their school has a very serious problem with kids cutting class

52% say their school has a very serious problem with kids who lack respect for teachers and use bad language

Nearly half of Hispanic students (48%) report that their school has a very serious problem with kids dropping out.

Jean Johnson, executive director of Public Agenda's new initiative Education Insights and an author of the report said, "This is not grumbling from a group of easily-shocked adults who haven't been inside a school in years and still haven’t come to grips with today’s teen fashions. These are the judgments of young people themselves who say problems like truancy and disrespect for teachers are very serious in their schools -- not just 'somewhat serious,' but 'very serious.' A lot of these kids are highly aware that their schools are not serving them well, and that has to be discouraging."

Minority parents are also more likely to report serious academic and social problems in their schools. Half of black (49%) and Hispanic (52%) parents say that it is a very serious problem that local schools are "not getting enough money to do a good job," compared to a third of white parents (33%). Minority parents are also twice as likely as white parents to say fighting and weapons are very serious issues and are more likely to question whether local school district superintendents do enough to ensure that schools are safe and orderly. Teachers in minority schools are more likely to complain about large classes, poor teaching conditions and lack of parental support.

This edition of "Reality Check" does include some particularly heartening findings for those who seek silver linings. Majorities of all students -- black (66%), white (72%) and Hispanic (71%) -- report that they have had a teacher who was able to get them interested in a subject that they hadn't really liked before. Additionally, most parents (61%), across racial and ethnic groups, believe their children's schools are better than the ones they attended when they were young.

To read the full report, click here.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Weird keepsakes

Peeking at items confiscated by teachers

Love notes, underwear, cologne, a live rooster, and a dead owl are among the treasured items students have smuggled into class -- and that teachers have taken away. Take a look at some of these weird keepsakes. Hear teachers describe their wackiest finds.

Via: Public Education Network

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