The teachers’ unions have put themselves in a difficult position, with Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio demonstrating that the traditional labor stance is untenable. So far, media attention to the union story has focused on the fiscal side—state deficits, teacher-benefit packages, and the like. Without question, these are important issues, but they are dwarfed by the implications for teacher effectiveness and improved student achievement. Now is the time to go beyond the rhetoric and to show that all of us—including the unions—are truly behind ensuring effective teachers in all classrooms.
An expanding list of states has joined in legislative battles over the future character of collective bargaining, a territory that was completely uncharted six months ago. A combination of state fiscal crises plus newly elected Republican legislatures and governors, has emboldened the legislatures in the traditionally union-friendly states of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. They are joined by states as diverse as Idaho, Alabama, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. But, what is it all about? Or, more interestingly, what should it be about?
Do we really need someone in Sacramento writing three paragraphs in the California Education Code containing 1,132 words that lay out the rules for school field trips? How about state approval of lesson plans for farm labor vehicle training? Of course not. And from these, we see an opportunity to break the gridlock in our state capital.
It has now become conventional wisdom that teachers are the most important ingredient in an effective school. It is probably also the case that teachers are the most important ingredient in an ineffective school. The point is that that there are large differences in teacher quality, and these differences are felt in very tangible ways by students and by U.S. society.
In this podcast, Rick Hanushek talks with Ed Next’s Paul Peterson about his new study estimating the economic impact of teachers who produce higher than average gains in student learning.
Hanushek finds that the top 25 percent of teachers (teachers in the top quarter of the effectiveness distribution) contribute $16,000 per year in income to the average student (compared to what those students would earn if they had an average teacher). If a class has 25 students, that means that $400,000 in added income will accrue to students because they had a good teacher for one year.
State budgets this year face huge revenue losses, thanks to the recession and the end of federal stimulus money. Each threatened interest group has mobilized to try to escape any impact but none as effectively as schools, which have a special weapon: the courts.
The argument in the courts — playing out now in New Jersey and likely soon in New York — is simple: The state Constitution protects us from taking any share of the pain of the fiscal calamity. This kind of logic may indeed spread to other states.
State budgets this year face huge rev enue losses, thanks to the recession and the end of federal stimulus money. Each threatened interest group has mobilized to try to escape any impact but none as effectively as schools, which have a special weapon: the courts. The argument in the courts -- playing out now in New Jersey and likely soon in New York -- is simple: The state Constitution protects us from taking any share of the pain of the fiscal calamity.
Meet Eric Hanushek, who is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and an expert on education policy. He was the first scholar to measure the effectiveness of a teacher based on the learning gains of his or her student. You may have also seen him in the movie, “Waiting For ‘Superman.’” Hanushek was kind enough to answer a few of our questions.
Each time international tests of student achievement are released, there is a parade of glib commentators explaining why we should not pay much attention to the generally poor performance of U.S. students. The arguments have become fairly standard. Don’t worry, these tests really do not indicate anything that is very important. Moreover, if one reads the results carefully, it is possible to find areas where the U.S. looks pretty good. And if we just look at our best students, they are competitive with students from other countries.
In an unexpected action last summer, the Los Angeles Times published the ratings of teacher effectiveness for 6,000 teachers by name. This is a potential game-changer.
The publication created a firestorm. The unions were apoplectic. A vocal set of commentators attacked this action from a variety of viewpoints. Nonetheless, it shows signs of spreading – to New York City and elsewhere. Since my research started this development, I believe it is useful to share my perspectives on how we should judge this development and whether we should stop its spread.
No longer is education reform an issue of liberals vs. conservatives. In Washington, the Obama administration's Race to the Top program rewarded states for making significant policy changes such as supporting charter schools. In Los Angeles, the Times published the effectiveness rankings—and names—of 6,000 teachers. And nationwide, the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman,'" which strongly criticizes the public education system, continues to succeed at the box office.
Many Americans were shocked to learn how poorly U. S. students were doing when the Program on International Student Assessment (PISA) released its study of math achievement for 2006. U. S. 15-year-olds came in 35th among the 57 nations who participated in its administration. The U. S. average score was 474 points (against an average of 500 for students in the industrialized countries that have been accepted as members of the Organizations of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), PISA’s sponsor).
Many people find it hard to believe that student performance has been flat for four decades when we have more than tripled funding for schools and when we have put into place a number of reform measures. Those facts are clear, but the explanation is less clear.
There are a variety of educational policies that simply conflict with research. One of the largest is pay for master’s degrees. Across the nation, extra pay for a master’s degree is deeply ingrained in the salary schedule. Overall, some ten percent of the total salary bill goes to pay bonuses to teachers who have master’s degrees. Yet one of the most consistent findings from research into the determinants of student achievement is that master’s degrees have no consistent effect. In other words, we regularly pay bonuses for something that is unrelated to classroom effectiveness.
We are entering the season for dire warnings about the loss of teacher jobs unless school funding is improved. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has given high-level credibility to this story by providing administration support to Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s new $23 billion stimulus bill in Congress.
Over the past decade, Florida has shown its laser-focus on student performance. Beginning with Jeb Bush and his able and imaginative education team, Florida moved forward on a reform agenda. But it was a reform agenda with a difference. Instead of following tradition and simply doing more of the same old things, Florida did two things. First, the rhetoric was not about “helping schools”, which too often translates into helping the adults in schools. Instead it was about student achievement – first reading and then achievement more broadly.
The effectiveness of charter schools in raising student achievement has become an intensely debated issue. When we last considered this topic (10/08/2009), the Department of Education was pushing charter schools but dueling studies introduced uncertainty. CREDO had done a national study that found more charters doing badly compared to their feeder schools from the traditional public sector, and an NBER study in New York City found substantially better performance of charters versus traditional public schools.
School accountability for student outcomes is central to current policy discussions. While the policy idea is often attributed simply to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), 44 states already had some form of test-based accountability when the 2002 federal accountability law came into existence. With NCLB, test-based accountability became a national strategy. It placed a clear goal on improvements in student achievement and established a series of actions and penalties for failure to meet annual improvement goals.
Over the last 40 years, the state courts have become important players in the funding of America’s public schools. During this period, only a handful of states have escaped state court scrutiny over the allocation and amount of funding they devote to their K-12 schools. Initially, these state court orders focused on the allocation of money between school districts, requiring many states to change their education financing systems to more equitably distribute school funding.
This has been a good year for evidence on the effectiveness of charters, highlighted by a major national study from CREDO and a new study in the continuing work from New York City. Nonetheless, understanding and interpreting the scientific research within the political and media environment is made more difficult by the political context. Charter schools have received considerable attention since President Obama put them on the administration’s policy agenda.