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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Education-Stimulus Priority: Develop Effective Teachers in Every Classroom

Defining what makes a good educator is only the first step in improving teacher quality.
By Alexandra R. Moses
Related Tags: Assessment,All Grades

Defining what it means to be an effective teacher remains a major hurdle for the Obama administration, which wants states to help teachers improve their skills, get rid of ineffective teachers, and identify and train effective teachers. Part of that solution may include allocating more money for teachers who work in low-income schools or in in-demand subjects, such as science, and rewarding top-performing teachers.

A New Definition of Good Teaching

U.S. Department of Education spokesperson Sandra Abreyava notes that as states receive stimulus money, the department hopes to see the investments immediately save jobs and drive reform. The administration understands, however, that many reforms, once addressed and implemented, will take time to show results.

Highly qualified teachers, according to the No Child Left Behind Act, include those who are certified, have competency in the subjects they teach, and hold a bachelor's degree. But many educators believe those standards say little about how well teachers actually perform in the classroom -- in short, how effective they are. The Obama administration uses the term effective rather than qualified -- a noteworthy departure from the Bush administration's education rhetoric.

The Debate Over Evaluating Teachers

Education-industry experts paint a bleak picture of states' efforts to measure teachers' achievements, which has been a hot-button issue for decades. "We're really working with stones, knives, and bearskin -- a truly rudimentary system," says Dan Weisberg, vice president for policy at the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit organization based in New York City. To start, many states haven't yet defined what it means to be "effective," a major hurdle, because teachers, administrators, unions, and, possibly, lawmakers will debate the criteria.

Determining whether teachers are effective also means measuring the results of what they do in the classroom (as opposed to being highly qualified, which is more a résumé of certifications and degrees). Using student data to assess teachers raises a number of thorny objections, as unions and individual teachers balk at using student test scores alone to drive decisions on teacher effectiveness.

Local Action

In the St. Francis Independent School District 15, north of Minneapolis, teachers get paid to take 32 hours of professional-development courses, either after school, on the weekend, in the summer, or on special workshop days. Teachers also receive evaluations from a team of three observers -- two peers and an administrator -- rather than just one person.

The annual review is based on four classroom observations as well as student performance and a portfolio of the teacher's work. That portfolio illustrates how the teacher improved students' skills, offering details of where a student was at the beginning of the year compared with the end.

Measuring Up

Some districts and states already are using students' achievement in an attempt to measure teacher effectiveness. In Louisiana, the Value Added Teacher Preparation Assessment Model uses student-assessment data to give feedback to teacher-preparation programs.

Teacher training is another way states can help teachers improve. In some Minnesota districts, where pay is based on performance, aggressive professional-development programs help ensure all teachers have the chance to earn the extra pay.

What It All Means

Ultimately, the administration hopes states will improve their approach to professional development and create ways of measuring teacher effectiveness. Arne Duncan believes that some of the best work in teacher effectiveness is happening at the local level and hopes to scale these results to a national level. The ideal assessment will be more nuanced, gathering student data over time but also looking at the small, yet significant improvements in achievement, such as higher grades or increased participation in class, which might not be immediately reflected in students' test scores.

It's also possible that with extra money available in the stimulus package for innovation, states or large school districts will figure out better ways to evaluate teachers that fairly reflects what they do in the classroom. "Today, there's no way to tell which are your greatest teachers or your worst teachers," Dan Weisberg says.

Alexandra R. Moses is a freelance writer in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in education.

This article is the second of four that outlines key steps to improving public education. Next, read about efforts to codify what high school students should know by the time they graduate.

Comments (7)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Col Sudhir Sinha's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dear Alexandra,
You've rightly pointed to the core of the solution of improving the school education standards i.e. developing effective teachers. Fortunately I've found a reasonably accurate system which has given the desired result in all the schools in India where I have deployed it. It also provides a credible response to Mr. Dan Weisberg's statement, "Today, there's no way to tell which are your greatest teachers or your worst teachers." The system is called Teaching Quality Improvement Program.

We have teachers of varying calibre in any school. Before identifying the training needs of teachers in order to upgrade them professionally we have to have a system through which we can identify the deficiencies and strengths in each of our teachers. This is the system which exactly serves the purpose. It is a 360deg student feedback process on all critical aspects of classroom instruction delivery of a teacher. The feedback data is quantified and then logically analysed to produce an Advisory Report for each teacher which acts as a beacon for further improvement by the teachers. Based on this data a comprehensive report on the school as a whole is also generated identifying the areas where the school administration needs to concentrate for carrying out improvement in the teaching-learning process. The system is geared to take care of aberrated feedback from a disgruntled student. As of now this system has given 90% accuracy after verifying from the teachers on whom feedback was given and processed.

Presently the system is under automation so that it can be utilised globally.

S. L. Johnson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In order to improve teacher effectiveness the "big picture" and all its parts MUST be recognized as active factors influencing the state of educational services delivery. All stakeholders must necessarily see the problem with mutual acuity, in order to effectively ameliorate it.

After it was determined that Johnny could not read, we heard the battle cry, "Back to Basics!" We stripped the urban schools of music, art, home economics, wood shop, library, and auditorium (fine arts appreciation) classes. Then we complained that Johnny not only could not read but, now, did not make connections between math and world events, nor could Johnny apply writing skills during execution of social studies or science projects. Everything became data focused. And the floodgates opened. Selective attention to the data supported the least costly intervention. Enter school reform , i.e., under-funded NCLB legislation!

Then we reformed school districts to "better able compete with charter schools," accused of stealing away public school attendance figures. My district, an urban one, decided to allow any resident in the district the privilege of choosing any district school building to attend, regardless of residential proximity to the building of choice. Then the district lost state funding; no longer were attendance figures accurate during the mandatory, annual Wednesday counts that were tied to the Federal funding of Title-1, Title-3, and Free Lunch programs.

Administrators became reluctant to hold children and parents for decisions made; consequences were modified and teacher authority undermined. The teacher became the scapegoat, the usual suspect, the reason for______ (fill in the blank). Teacher assaults grew in number. (Or, was it that reports flowed more freely Internet, Twitter, text messages?) Teachers became more readily prone to being labeled "unprofessional" when refusing to accept the tirades of parents and students and scared administrators who disavowed knowledge of specified consequences for choices made in Orwellian-like style (What Student Code of conduct?). Violence against teachers grew; safety and security was a joke. Kids with weapons or drugs were returned to school the next day.

Professional developments followed. Teachers were told this that this generation was a generation in crises. Kids of today were nothing like yesterday's group. The parents were different, and many were accurately described as "children with children." The poor economy further placed this posterity in crises. Students arrive at school hungry and sleepy, many are suddenly homeless, or wards of the state, in foster care, as a result of drugs and violence at home.

But Johnny cannot read. This manifestation is not because of the medications taken for some unknown psychiatric disorder revealed to the teacher during a PTC with a grandparent, or because mother refuses to acknowledge learning deficits and therefore evaluation services, or refuses to reveal a previous special education or resource room placement. It is the ineptitude of the classroom teacher. Data that predicts a child's reaction to certain types of stress (trauma) and circumstance and neglect is simply not factored into the reform model. The search for reform moves forward and other data is looked at.

Many students move from house to house throughout the ensuing school year. Parents who withdrew a student and move to another school repeatedly because of "a family emergency," "a bad marriage," "a new job", "lost job," " a consolidation of households," "failure to make rent," during the school year, and coincidentally, right at card-marking time. Is documented. Hey those charter school turncoats came back at MEAP time. Hey, let's petition the state for a return of the funds! The teacher performance is linked to and defined by MEAP scores or student performance.

Reform model to the rescue again! Let us NOT develop a plan to accommodate displaced students....but lets cut back on teachers of the home-bound, let's not have any outreach programs to meet the needs of the suddenly-homeless. And, by the way, we must reduce the numbers of school counselors. The classroom teacher can prepare weekly assignments for and grade the home bound student, because the case load that a teacher for the home bound is increase three times over. Classroom teachers, just forget about the mandated curriculum and methodologies, the grade level expectations, and the benchmarks.

Now, the fan is blowing and everything is flying. Heads are rolling, and dogs are barking. The classroom teacher is to blame for all. Johnny can't read or write, the home bound has not met performance expectations, social promotions abound, corruption exhaust cash needed for essential supplies, building security policy is discussed parents and students only. We honest teachers are clumped together with the privileged few corrupt who did benefit from the systemically corrupt predators who betrayed children. We have worked longer hours at home, because "in crowd teachers" do not have full class loads,leave the building whenever desired, and leave early and arrive late, routinely. We all are expected to stay late and arrive early otherwise we are not considered a good "team player." This school year, we are faced with concessions in pay, increased medical coverage contributions, and removal or additional financial limitations.

One thing is for sure: If all stakeholders look at the "big picture" and deny nothing of the influences that resulted from the elements comprising that picture, teachers cannot reasonably be held solely responsible for all that is wrong. Making Teachers more effective will not result in systemic change if parents are not responsible for choices made, students aren't accountable to snyone, and corruption is unmentionable.

S. L. Johnson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In order to improve teacher effectiveness the "big picture" and all its parts MUST be recognized as active factors influencing the state of educational services delivery. All stakeholders must necessarily see the problem with mutual acuity, in order to effectively ameliorate it.

After it was determined that Johnny could not read, we heard the battle cry, "Back to Basics!" We stripped the urban schools of music, art, home economics, wood shop, library, and auditorium (fine arts appreciation) classes. Then we complained that Johnny not only could not read but, now, did not make connections between math and world events, nor could Johnny apply writing skills during execution of social studies or science projects. Everything became data focused. And the floodgates opened. Selective attention to the data supported the least costly intervention. Enter school reform , i.e., under-funded NCLB legislation!

Then we reformed school districts to "better able compete with charter schools," accused of stealing away public school attendance figures. My district, an urban one, decided to allow any resident in the district the privilege of choosing any district school building to attend, regardless of residential proximity to the building of choice. Then the district lost state funding; no longer were attendance figures accurate during the mandatory, annual Wednesday counts that were tied to the Federal funding of Title-1, Title-3, and Free Lunch programs.

Administrators became reluctant to hold children and parents for decisions made; consequences were modified and teacher authority undermined. The teacher became the scapegoat, the usual suspect, the reason for______ (fill in the blank). Teacher assaults grew in number. (Or, was it that reports flowed more freely Internet, Twitter, text messages?) Teachers became more readily prone to being labeled "unprofessional" when refusing to accept the tirades of parents and students and scared administrators who disavowed knowledge of specified consequences for choices made in Orwellian-like style (What Student Code of conduct?). Violence against teachers grew; safety and security was a joke. Kids with weapons or drugs were returned to school the next day.

Professional developments followed. Teachers were told this that this generation was a generation in crises. Kids of today were nothing like yesterday's group. The parents were different, and many were accurately described as "children with children." The poor economy further placed this posterity in crises. Students arrive at school hungry and sleepy, many are suddenly homeless, or wards of the state, in foster care, as a result of drugs and violence at home.

But Johnny cannot read. This manifestation is not because of the medications taken for some unknown psychiatric disorder revealed to the teacher during a PTC with a grandparent, or because mother refuses to acknowledge learning deficits and therefore evaluation services, or refuses to reveal a previous special education or resource room placement. It is the ineptitude of the classroom teacher. Data that predicts a child's reaction to certain types of stress (trauma) and circumstance and neglect is simply not factored into the reform model. The search for reform moves forward and other data is looked at.

Many students move from house to house throughout the ensuing school year. Parents who withdrew a student and move to another school repeatedly because of "a family emergency," "a bad marriage," "a new job", "lost job," " a consolidation of households," "failure to make rent," during the school year, and coincidentally, right at card-marking time. Is documented. Hey those charter school turncoats came back at MEAP time. Hey, let's petition the state for a return of the funds! The teacher performance is linked to and defined by MEAP scores or student performance.

Reform model to the rescue again! Let us NOT develop a plan to accommodate displaced students....but lets cut back on teachers of the home-bound, let's not have any outreach programs to meet the needs of the suddenly-homeless. And, by the way, we must reduce the numbers of school counselors. The classroom teacher can prepare weekly assignments for and grade the home bound student, because the case load that a teacher for the home bound is increase three times over. Classroom teachers, just forget about the mandated curriculum and methodologies, the grade level expectations, and the benchmarks.

Now, the fan is blowing and everything is flying. Heads are rolling, and dogs are barking. The classroom teacher is to blame for all. Johnny can't read or write, the home bound has not met performance expectations, social promotions abound, corruption exhausted cash needed for essential supplies, building security policy is discussed with parents and students only. We honest teachers are clumped together with the privileged few corrupt who did benefit from the systemically corrupt predators who betrayed children. We have worked longer hours at home, because "in crowd teachers" do not have full class loads,leave the building whenever desired, and leave early and arrive late, routinely. We all are expected to stay late and arrive early otherwise we are not considered a good "team player." This school year, we are faced with concessions in pay, increased medical coverage contributions, and removal or additional financial limitations.

One thing is for sure: If all stakeholders look at the "big picture" and deny nothing of the influences that resulted from the elements comprising that picture, teachers cannot reasonably be held solely responsible for all that is wrong. Making Teachers more effective will not result in systemic change if parents are not responsible for choices made, students aren't accountable to snyone, and corruption is unmentionable.

S. L. Johnson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In order to improve teacher effectiveness the "big picture" and all its parts MUST be recognized as active factors influencing the state of educational services delivery. All stakeholders must necessarily see the problem with mutual acuity, in order to effectively ameliorate it.

After it was determined that Johnny could not read, we heard the battle cry, "Back to Basics!" We stripped the urban schools of music, art, home economics, wood shop, library, and auditorium (fine arts appreciation) classes. Then we complained that Johnny not only could not read but, now, did not make connections between math and world events, nor could Johnny apply writing skills during execution of social studies or science projects. Everything became data focused. And the floodgates opened. Selective attention to the data supported the least costly intervention. Enter school reform , i.e., under-funded NCLB legislation!

Then we reformed school districts to "better able compete with charter schools," accused of stealing away public school attendance figures. My district, an urban one, decided to allow any resident in the district the privilege of choosing any district school building to attend, regardless of residential proximity to the building of choice. Then the district lost state funding; no longer were attendance figures accurate during the mandatory, annual Wednesday counts that were tied to the Federal funding of Title-1, Title-3, and Free Lunch programs.

Administrators became reluctant to hold children and parents for decisions made; consequences were modified and teacher authority undermined. The teacher became the scapegoat, the usual suspect, the reason for______ (fill in the blank). Teacher assaults grew in number. (Or, was it that reports flowed more freely Internet, Twitter, text messages?) Teachers became more readily prone to being labeled "unprofessional" when refusing to accept the tirades of parents and students and scared administrators who disavowed knowledge of specified consequences for choices made in Orwellian-like style (What Student Code of conduct?). Violence against teachers grew; safety and security was a joke. Kids with weapons or drugs were returned to school the next day.

Professional developments followed. Teachers were told this that this generation was a generation in crises. Kids of today were nothing like yesterday's group. The parents were different, and many were accurately described as "children with children." The poor economy further placed this posterity in crises. Students arrive at school hungry and sleepy, many are suddenly homeless, or wards of the state, in foster care, as a result of drugs and violence at home.

But Johnny cannot read. This manifestation is not because of the medications taken for some unknown psychiatric disorder revealed to the teacher during a PTC with a grandparent, or because mother refuses to acknowledge learning deficits and therefore evaluation services, or refuses to reveal a previous special education or resource room placement. It is the ineptitude of the classroom teacher. Data that predicts a child's reaction to certain types of stress (trauma) and circumstance and neglect is simply not factored into the reform model. The search for reform moves forward and other data is looked at.

Many students move from house to house throughout the ensuing school year. Parents who withdrew a student and move to another school repeatedly because of "a family emergency," "a bad marriage," "a new job", "lost job," " a consolidation of households," "failure to make rent," during the school year, and coincidentally, right at card-marking time. Is documented. Hey those charter school turncoats came back at MEAP time. Hey, let's petition the state for a return of the funds! The teacher performance is linked to and defined by MEAP scores or student performance.

Reform model to the rescue again! Let us NOT develop a plan to accommodate displaced students....but lets cut back on teachers of the home-bound, let's not have any outreach programs to meet the needs of the suddenly-homeless. And, by the way, we must reduce the numbers of school counselors. The classroom teacher can prepare weekly assignments for and grade the home bound student, because the case load that a teacher for the home bound is increase three times over. Classroom teachers, just forget about the mandated curriculum and methodologies, the grade level expectations, and the benchmarks.

Now, the fan is blowing and everything is flying. Heads are rolling, and dogs are barking. The classroom teacher is to blame for all. Johnny can't read or write, the home bound has not met performance expectations, social promotions abound, corruption exhausted cash needed for essential supplies, building security policy is discussed with parents and students only. We honest teachers are clumped together with the privileged few corrupt who did benefit from the systemically corrupt predators who betrayed children. We have worked longer hours at home, because "in crowd teachers" do not have full class loads,leave the building whenever desired, and leave early and arrive late, routinely. We all are expected to stay late and arrive early otherwise we are not considered a good "team player." This school year, we are faced with concessions in pay, increased medical coverage contributions, and removal or additional financial limitations.

One thing is for sure: If all stakeholders look at the "big picture" and deny nothing of the influences that resulted from the elements comprising that picture, teachers cannot reasonably be held solely responsible for all that is wrong. Making Teachers more effective will not result in systemic change if parents are not responsible for choices made, students aren't accountable to snyone, and corruption is unmentionable.

AnnanAmos's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Well, how do you entirely justify a stimulus for education when the stimulus for the economy has thus far been a dismal failure? It clearly hasn't benefited the taxpayers, i.e. the people that are paying for it - and if anything, is only making things worse because it's just adding to the national debt. But enough of that for now.
It's obvious that by now, the public school system needing an overhaul is an understatement. The public school system functions almost like a private school when you think about it: public schools are funded by taxes, and property taxes within a particular area, part of levees, are used to fund the schools within that particular district. (Whether there's gerrymandering involved is another matter.) As this happens, it means that "public" schools in richer neighborhoods get more funding, therefore better equipment, staff, and therefore deliver a better education. To this end, either all property taxes need to be divvied up so that each public school gets the exact same amount of funding, or the public school system should be disbanded completely and private options need to be brought forth. And it need not be as expensive as one might think. If a school has room for, say 1,000 students, grades K - 5, we'll say, and each family contributes, say $100 a month for tuition - that's a budget of $100,000 a month, $1.2 million a year. That's extremely doable.
What is a rubric of how well our teachers are doing? Well, standardized tests are thought to be one, but by this point it's obvious that doesn't seem to really be the answer. The No Child Left Behind Act is a dismal failure - and furthermore, a money pit.
How was it that our schools were better 50 years ago or so, and so far behind now? What was the difference in the course material then, and the course material and also teaching methods between then and now?
One of the biggest differences is that for one, far more money goes into education and also governmental regulation. Think about that - government regulation. These were the people that gave us the Bay of Pigs, the Vietnamese War, the removal of the Gold Standard, and trickle down economics - do we want those people in charge of our students?

rdeank's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Let's think critically about AnnanAmos's starting point: A school for 1,000 students on a budget of $100,000 per month. AnnanAmos's budget could provide one adult (teacher?) for each 30 students with enough money to provide a little over $35,000 in total compensation (that's salary plus all fringe benefits, social security, medicare, unemployment insurance, worker's compensation, etc.) That would make total annual salary about $25,000 per year. Even if you could find the people to take these jobs, that leaves absolutely zero - nada - for electricity, heat (or air conditioning), any kind of support - like someone to pay the bills, write out checks, answer phones.

This is not a starting point; this is silliness.

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