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TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

Quick look at what's inside...
  • The view from NCTQ
    • Just how real is the “new” teacher shortage crisis?  
  • Digging into the research
  • From the field
    • Clark Country District in Las Vegas is piloting two staffing models in an effort to fill impossibly large numbers of vacancies. Where is the state when you need it?
  • Special announcement
    • NCTQ is recruiting new members for our Teacher Advisory Group. The Teacher Advisory Group serves as a source of teacher voice and perspective, providing input on NCTQ's work. We are seeking current classroom teachers who are interested in contributing to our work and learning more about teacher policy. Click here to learn more and apply. Applications are due June 10. 

The view from NCTQ

Are big teacher shortages around the corner?

Today, a test of your policy chops.
What do the following three statements have in common?
1.  It's been X years since A Nation at Risk and we still haven't solved [fill in blank];
2. The medical profession would always/never do [fill in blank]; why not the same for the teaching profession?
3. The sky is falling! Over the next X years, unprecedented numbers of teachers are quitting/retiring!  Who will replace them?

The answer: They each are about equally likely to be used in the opening paragraph of most teacher quality reports.
These statements are not just ubiquitous and unimaginative. They tend to play into our fears and biases.
Take teacher shortages.   
For as long as I can remember, we have been standing on a cliff about to fall off into a massive teacher shortage.
Don't get me wrong.  There are real shortages of ELL, special ed and secondary STEM teachers.  Some rural schools also face serious staffing problems—even when it comes to elementary teachers.
But the truth that the headlines bury is that we have been systematically overproducing teachers in most subject areas for years.  Here's some of the supply and demand data we have collected for the most recent year available (2012-13), comparing the number of elementary teachers who are prepared with how many are needed (for full table, see here).

In the past few months, there have been new reports that there's a big drop in enrollments in teacher prep programs, causing a lot of people to worry that we won't be able to fully staff schools in a few years.  Nothing good happens when fear drives our decisions. In this case, institutions will be encouraged to keep admission standards low and states will toy with lowering the rigor of their licensing tests.
If government projections are even remotely accurate, the drop in teacher prep enrollment isn't likely to lead to general shortages, not at their current rates. Further, a decline is not necessarily a bad thing, provided it isn't the better prospective candidates who are making other career choices.  While universities might like the resulting tuition revenue, it's not healthy for a profession to systematically overproduce, and not only because it suppresses wages. 
The reality is that there is not going to be a single solution to real shortages.
For instance, teacher prep programs weren't attracting enough candidates for STEM or ELL or SPED even at the peak of their enrollments, so declining enrollments are not going to create a new problem and will hardly exacerbate an old one. 
When it comes to finding qualified STEM teachers, districts and states must be willing to pay some teachers a lot more than others, depending on the value of their skills in the marketplace, something which most have refused to do, at least in a meaningful way. Also, let's not discount the importance of removing those policies which discourage qualified persons from teaching, such as putting up roadblocks to people who have real content expertise but have not completed the state-mandated coursework or requiring any new teachers to start at the lowest step on the salary schedule no matter what their backgrounds. 
Special education and ELL shortages will only be solved when institutions start capping the number of candidates admitted to oversubscribed elementary programs and divert eager aspiring teachers to these areas—made all the more eager because their pay is also higher.
We know that the solution to the rural problem is not to double or triple the number of statewide candidates.  What have those practices gotten us? Just double or triple the number of candidates who still have no interest in living in a remote area.
The key to addressing rural shortages lies in increased investments in technology so districts can "pipe" in specialized teaching rather than trying to staff each position. And of course pay is a factor too. Forget those nominal stipends. We need to pay these teachers enough money to serve as a real incentive to relocate somewhere for a couple of years. The only other permanent fix to rural shortages is a common solution in other countries but probably a nonstarter here in the US: require all teachers to serve a few years in hardship areas.
Let's close as we opened:
  1. In the 32 years since A Nation at Risk, we've been unable to solve specialized shortages through generalized overproduction.
  2. The teaching profession would do well to take a page from the medical profession which consistently, systematically aligns supply with demand.
  3. And last but not least, let's remember that doomsayers have found it really hard to make the sky fall.
Let's show some imagination and courage as well, crafting real solutions to solve real problems.

- Kate Walsh

Digging into the research

In the race for teacher quality, how much does teachers' race matter?

While the population of minority students in the US continues to grow, the number of minority teachers has not kept pace, in spite of the fact that the percentage of minority teachers has actually more than doubled since 1988 (a little known fact surfaced by Richard Ingersoll.) A new study from a group of researchers from Harvard, University of Arkansas and University of Colorado offers more evidence that the lack of minority teachers is hurting student achievement. It's a study that plays well and has gotten a lot of attention—but one whose findings should still be put in perspective.
The researchers took advantage of Florida's large dataset, finding some limited evidence that matching teacher race with student race can improve outcomes. In reading, for African American and white students, a .004 to .005 standard deviation bump in scores was achieved. In math, a slightly stronger effect size was picked up for not only African American and white students, but also Asian/Pacific Island students, who experienced a .007 to .041 standard deviation bump. (No effect was found for Hispanic students; but since the study did not control for assignment to ELL classes,  we think the lack of findings should be attributed to the methodology employed here, and not because Hispanic students don't actually benefit from having Hispanic teachers.)
As these results suggest, certainly having race-congruent teachers appears to nudge the needle on student achievement, but what gets overlooked is that other interventions can move it more. Here we compare the effect sizes of teachers of the same race as their students with the effect sizes of a few other interventions, mostly achieved when schools have altered the curriculum.

Table modified from a Brookings Institute chart which summarizes reports from the What Works Clearinghouse
on curriculum and program intervention and from the research paper.

It's hard not to notice that choosing a better math curriculum yields effects seven times greater (using the most conservative calculation) than matching teacher and student race.
Getting districts to embrace the importance of strong curriculum in an era of curricular indifference may be a fool's errand, but count us in.

-Isabel Spake

Sorting it out: What's behind teacher tracking and sorting between and within schools

Some students are more apt to be assigned better or more experienced teachers than other students.
That's not news. Past studies have found that lower-income and minority students tend to be assigned to teachers with less experience than their peers.
A new study by Rebecca Wolf of SRI International plays this pattern out but goes a step further to see whether some schools or, more intriguingly, grades within schools get a larger share of novice teachers.
Wolf finds that the biggest apparent driver of differences in who gets the newest teachers within a school was the student's grade level—not whether students were high or low performing. While the level of student achievement played some role, the effect size was relatively quite small (students who scored basic on the state math test were about only one percent more likely to be taught by a new teacher than a higher-achieving student was). However, a 9th grade student was 10 percent more likely than a 12th grade student, regardless of her academic standing, to be taught by a novice math teacher. Sixth grade was the exception to this finding, with student achievement having a bigger impact than grade level. A low-achieving 6th grade student (the first grade of middle school for most schools in the district) was much more likely to have a novice teacher than other 6th grade students.

So why does assigning the newest teachers to the lowest grades in a school, especially to the lower-performing students in those grades, matter? The problem is that success in 6th and 9th grades, the years referred to as “transition grades,” has significant implications for students’ long-term educational attainment and engagement. Studies show that student experiences during these years have a relationship to drop-out and student achievement rates that can persist for years into students’ academic careers.
Wolf’s study may mean that principals should think twice about where they’re placing their newest teachers.

-Nithya Joseph

Don't judge these teacher ed journals by their titles!

Do teacher education journals seek to help teacher educators do a better job?
It seems like a fairly silly question. Nevertheless, we reviewed 10 prominent teacher ed journals and learned that, for the most part, they provide pretty weak gruel when it comes to publishing articles intended to build teacher skills.  They may dedicate quite a bit of content to how it feels to be in teacher prep or the characteristics of a good teacher–but in terms of getting down to the nitty gritty of developing essential skills, there's a notable vacuum. 
We started with abstracts from the last five years (2009-2014) for the Journal of Teacher Education, the most influential education journal focusing exclusively on teacher education.[1] Only 17 of the 153 articles in this period (11 percent) covered core techniques and skills (e.g., The Effect of Content-Focused Coaching on the Quality of Classroom Text Discussions and Teacher Questioning to Elicit Students' Mathematical Thinking in Elementary School Classrooms).[2]
What kinds of articles fill the remaining publication space? 
The clear majority have nothing to do with teacher training, further evidence that the field of teacher education, writ large, eschews not only a 'training' role but, like many academic journals, avoids any topic which runs the risk of being classified as a "how-to manual" or even sensible guidance. There were a few articles (10 percent of the sample) dealing with skills that would be classified as important for a novice teacher to develop, but were not directly related to classroom instruction.
Here's a full categorization of all content, 79 percent of which avoids anything having to do with what some might see as the day-to-day work of the teacher educator:

We then expanded our search to review articles from nine other teacher ed journals, although we limited this search to only those articles published in the last two years.  Again, we found few instances of articles dedicated to building classroom skills. Five of the nine failed to publish a single such article.

Whether you agree or disagree with how we categorized the articles, the evidence is overwhelming that education journals are not pushing for, or focusing on, any research that might help teacher educators do a better job building the specific skills necessary to be a more effective instructor.
It's hard not to conclude a more troubling truth, that such research may not even exist–or else why wouldn't it be getting published? Speculation aside, it's clear that teacher educators can’t count on their professional publications to focus on increasing their knowledge about the nuts-and-bolts of successful preparation and teaching.

Julie Greenberg & Kyla McClure
[1] A ranking of the 100 top journals in education research, including teacher education, puts the Journal of Teacher Education as the highest ranked (19th) in terms of its "five-year impact factor." The "five-year impact factor" is calculated on the basis of citation counts. Makel, M. C., & Plucker, J. A. (2014). Facts are more important than novelty: Replication in the Education Sciences. Educational Researcher, 20(10), 1-13.
[2] As troubling, even this group contains articles of uncertain value: Three of the 15 studies involve three or fewer subjects, designs that do not inspire confidence that results can inform best practice. We suspect that a full-scale review of methodologies of all 15 articles would reveal other weaknesses common to teacher prep research.
This year, Clark County School District in Las Vegas started the year in a pinch: district-wide, there were over 600 teaching vacancies and student enrollment continued to grow. In response, the district pulled out all the stops to recruit new teachers (see ads in airline magazines and a zip-lining superintendent) and is now rethinking how to deploy existing staff.
Taking lessons from Public Impact's Opportunity Culture program as well as other school districts and charter management organizations, Clark County is piloting two staffing models in which effective teachers take responsibility for an expanded group of students. They've launched a pilot program that includes a blended learning model and a "teaching and learning model" in which excellent teachers are responsible for their own classrooms as well as leading other teachers. Clark County School District is applying the same principle to their principals. Next year, two excellent principals will be leading two schools each in an effort to "franchise" their approach to leadership.
We expect that there will be tweaks to the models for both teachers and principals, but we applaud the Clark County School District's effort to take risks, try new ideas and learn from other systems. Watch this space in the coming months to see what we can learn from them.
Doing the Math on Teacher Pensions: How to Protect Teachers and Taxpayers

Challenging the claims of pension boards and other groups about the cost-effectiveness, fairness and flexibility of the traditional defined benefit pension plans still in place in 38 states, this report includes a report card on each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia with a detailed analysis of state teacher pension policies. 

Smart Money

What teachers are paid matters. Many factors play a role in making the decision to become a teacher, but for many people compensation heavily influences the decision not only to enter the profession but also whether to stay in it and when to leave. For teachers, knowing where salaries start and end isn’t enough; they must also understand the path they will take from starting salary to the top of the scale. 

Easy A's

Using evidence from more than 500 colleges and universities producing nearly half of the nation’s new teachers annually, this report answers two questions: Are teacher candidates graded too easily, misleading them about their readiness to teach? Are teacher preparation programs providing sufficiently rigorous training, or does the approach to training drive higher grades?

Copyright © 2015 National Council on Teacher Quality, All rights reserved.

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