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Teacher Quality

  • School Organizational Practices And The Challenges Of Remote Teaching During A Pandemic

    Written on June 24, 2020

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guests today are Matthew A. Kraft, Associate Professor of Education and Economics at Brown University and Research Director at Upbeat, and Nicole S. Simon, director in the Office of K-16 Initiatives at the City University of New York. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered schools across the United States, upending traditional approaches to education. The health threats posed by the Coronavirus, a sudden shift to remote teaching, and added caretaking responsibilities at home have created a uniquely stressful and demanding context for teachers’ work. Major concerns exist about teachers’ wellbeing during the pandemic and their ability to successfully deliver instruction remotely. Teachers have also expressed apprehension about their willingness to return to the classroom when schools are able to reopen. Even more troubling are projections of substantial student learning loss and the likelihood that differential access to technology and learning supports at home are exacerbating longstanding achievement gaps along racial and socio-economic lines. 

    We developed the “Teaching From Home Survey” for Upbeat to support districts in better understanding and responding to teachers’ experience in working remotely. Between April 27 and May 26, 2020, a diverse sample of 7,195 teachers working across nine southern, midwestern and eastern states answered the survey. 78% of teachers responded to the survey, including teachers working across 8 districts and 3 charter school networks in rural, suburban, and urban areas. Our analyses complement and extend recent findings by smaller, nationally representative surveys by USA Today, Educators for Excellence, Ed Week, and RAND. The large and diverse sample of respondents allow us to explore how teachers’ experiences working remotely differ across both individual and school characteristics.

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  • Teaching During School Shutdowns Should Be A Team Sport

    Written on May 28, 2020

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Susan Moore Johnson, the Jerome T. Murphy Research Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    When schools suddenly closed in March and moved to online instruction, I wondered how I would have responded if I'd still been a high school English teacher. I imagined having to prepare a series of engaging Ted Talks with follow-up Q&As. But having talked with many administrators and teachers, I’ve realized that good online schooling during the pandemic is a team sport not a solo performance. It calls for careful preparation and coordination among many players. Just as Covid-19 has revealed hidden shortcomings in our society, it has exposed the limitations of compartmentalized schools that continue to rise or fall on the skills, autonomy and self-reliance of individual teachers.

    As teachers faced the sudden reality of online teaching, they had many pressing questions: Are my students safe and confident or are they at risk, hungry, and fearful? Am I responsible for finding students who don’t show up online? What kind of schedule provides meaningful routines with necessary flexibility? How can I create social learning experiences for students who are isolated at home? What can I do to help students who fall behind? How can we meet the special learning needs of students who rely on one-to-one support? How can I fairly grade students’ progress when I can’t provide extra help to those who need it?  

    In many schools, teachers struggled with such questions alone. Without a reliable forum where they could explore and resolve urgent problems with others, individuals did their best. Some convened their classes occasionally for live meetings, so students to could see one another and talk about how things were going for them. Many prepared weekly work packets for parents to pick up at the school or they posted assignments online—typically math problems or reading comprehension questions—for students to complete and upload for grading. Some relied on web-based educational resources, including short lectures by presenters their students had never seen. Many teachers were dismayed to realize that their repertoire of instructional practices had been drastically reduced to a few barren components. Meanwhile students within the same school might have either engaging or tedious learning experiences, depending on who their teacher was.

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  • Our Profession Requires Hope, Now And Ever Since

    Written on May 19, 2020

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our contributor today is José Luis Vilson, a math educator for a middle school in the Inwood/Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. He publishes regularly on his own site. Otherposts in the series are compiled here. 

    On most mornings, I tweet a good morning message intended to share my intentions for the day and the work ahead of me. People usually receive it well because they understand I’ve worked at a school that serves marginalized students in underserved communities for the better part of 15 years. On occasion, I have to remind the occasional tweeter how important this context is in the midst of my more optimistic tweets. In many people’s minds, rage and fury are necessary accouterments for activists where positivity and smiles look like tools of the apparat. To express any form of affirmative outlook is to betray the ideals of disruption to the status quo. 

    Yet, teaching in our most dire contexts necessitates hope, and this is no more evident than in what we’ve dubbed “remote learning.” In New York City, we’ve now entered two months of correspondence with peers and students through the Internet and called this process schooling. For years, we understood school as compulsory, inequitable, and vital to the very environment that created these conditions. More learning begets unlearning. More education presumably leads to more engaged citizens who would create a better world for their children than we did for ours. Many of us follow this principle in systems deeply antagonistic to these goals. 

    When our government asked the nation’s largest public-school system to flip our entire system, we did so dutifully. Yet most of us knew that such a transition would exacerbate the already entrenched inequities in our system.

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  • Why School Climate Matters For Teachers And Students

    Written on May 18, 2020

    Our guest authors today are Mathew A. Kraft, associate professor of education and economics at Brown University, and Grace T. Falken, a research program associate at Brown’s Annenberg Institute. This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of The State Education Standard, the journal of the National Association of State Boards of Education.

    Over the past decade, education reformers have focused much of their attention on raising teacher quality. This makes sense, given the well-evidenced, large impacts teachers have on student outcomes and the wide variation in teacher effectiveness, even within the same school (Goldhaber 2015Jackson et al. 2014). Yet this focus on individual teachers has caused policymakers to lose sight of the importance of the organizational contexts in which teachers work and students learn. 

    The quality of a school’s teaching staff is greater than the sum of its parts. School environments can enable teachers to perform to their fullest potential or undercut their efforts to do so. 

    When we think of work environments, we often envision physical features: school facilities, instructional resources, and the surrounding neighborhood. State and district policies that shape curriculum standards, class size, and compensation also come to mind. These things matter, but so do school climate factors that are less easily observed or measured. Teachers’ day-to-day experiences are influenced most directly by the culture and interpersonal environment of their schools.

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  • Where Al Shanker Stood: How To Harass A Fulbright Teacher

    Written on August 2, 2019

    In this column, originally published in the New York Times on November 3, 1985, Al Shanker argues that teachers need to be treated respectfully, as the dedicated professionals they are.

    This is the story of a man who offended the powers that be. It has nothing to do with the Medicis, the Borgias or Henry the Eighth but a lot to do with the way too many of our schools are administered. Bert (not his real name) has been a New York City social studies teachers for many years, first in junior high and then in high school. He's also a perennial student. In addition to holding two master's degrees, he's spent most of his summers taking solid academic courses at places like Columbia, Temple, Princeton, Rensselaer. Over the years he's won three Fulbright scholarships for study in India, Israel and, this past summer, in Korea.

    There's nothing parochial about Bert's  interests. He's done work in human relations, psychology, urban problems, Ottoman and Korean culture, the history of anti-Semitism and of slavery, law, school administration, American history and a whole college catalogue of other subjects. In 1980 he was cited for his "outstanding  professional participation" in a summer human rights workshop at Skidmore College.

    Most important, there's nothing of the ivory tower or the dilettante in all this. Bert brought what he had studied back into his classroom and into his professional relations with his colleagues. His principal once praised him for the "keen insights" he offered in a presentation to the entire faculty after a summer of study in Israel. Now he's preparing a new syllabus for his social studies department based on his summer in Korea. His chairmen have consistently praised his teaching ability. A recent observation report on one of his lessons concluded with, "Keep up the good work."

    Sounds like the record of one of the top teachers in his school, right? Wrong! The punch line is that Bert was rated "unsatisfactory" by his principal at the end of the last school year.

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  • Why Teacher Evaluation Reform Is Not A Failure

    Written on August 23, 2018

    The RAND Corporation recently released an important report on the impact of the Gates Foundation’s “Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching” (IPET) initiative. IPET was a very thorough and well-funded attempt to improve teaching quality in schools in three districts and four charter management organizations (CMOs). The initiative was multi-faceted, but its centerpiece was the implementation of multi-measure teacher evaluation systems and the linking of ratings from those systems to professional development and high stakes personnel decisions, including compensation, tenure, and dismissal. This policy, particularly the inclusion in teacher evaluations of test-based productivity measures (e.g., value-added scores), has been among the most controversial issues in education policy throughout the past 10 years.

    The report is extremely rich and there's a lot of interesting findings in there, so I would encourage everyone to read it themselves (at least the executive summary), but the headline finding was that the IPET had no discernible effect on student outcomes, namely test scores and graduation rates, in the districts that participated, vis-à-vis similar districts that did not. Given that IPET was so thoroughly designed and implemented, and that it was well-funded, it can potentially be viewed as a "best case scenario" test of the type of evaluation reform that most states have enacted. Accordingly, critics of these reforms, who typically focus their opposition on the high stakes use of evaluation measures, particularly value-added and other test-based measures, in these evaluations, have portrayed the findings as vindication of their opposition. 

    This reaction has merit. The most important reason why is that evaluation reform was portrayed by advocates as a means to immediate and drastic improvements in student outcomes. This promise was misguided from the outset, and evaluation reform opponents are (and were) correct in pointing this out. At the same time, however, it would be wise not to dismiss evaluation reform as a whole, for several reasons, a few of which are discussed below.

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  • What Happened To Teacher Quality?

    Written on March 15, 2018

    Starting around 2005 and up until a few years ago, education policy discourse and policymaking was dominated by the issue of improving “teacher quality.” We don’t really hear too much about it the past couple of years, or at least not nearly as much. One of the major reasons why is that the vast majority of states have enacted policies ostensibly designed to improve teacher quality.

    Thanks in no small part to the Race to the Top grant program, and the subsequent ESEA waiver program, virtually all states reformed their teacher evaluation systems, the “flagship” policy of the teacher quality push. Many of these states also tied their new evaluation results to high stakes personnel decisions, such as granting tenure, dismissals, layoffs, and compensation. Predictably, the details of these new systems vary quite a bit, both within and between states. Many advocates are unsatisfied with how the new policies were designed, and one could write a book on all the different issues. Yet it would be tough to deny that this national policy effort was among the fastest shifts in recent educational history, particularly given the controversy surrounding it.

    So, what happened to all the attention to teacher quality? It was put into practice. The evidence on its effects is already emerging, but this will take a while, and so it is still a quiet time in teacher quality land, at least compared to the previous 5-7 years. Even so, there are already many lessons out there, too many for a post. Looking back, though, one big picture lesson – and definitely not a new one – is about how the evaluation reform effort stands out (in a very competitive field) for the degree to which it was driven by the promise of immediate, large results.

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  • What Do Schools Fostering A Teacher “Growth Mindset” Look Like?

    Written on January 31, 2018

    Our guest authors today are Stefanie Reinhorn, Susan Moore Johnson, and Nicole Simon. Reinhorn is an independent consultant working with school systems on Instructional Rounds and school improvement.  Johnson is the Jerome T Murphy Research Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Simon is a director in the Office of K-16 Initiatives at the City University of New York. The authors are researchers at The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers at Harvard Graduate School of Education. This piece is adapted from the authors’ chapter in Teaching in Context: The Social Side of Education Reform edited by Esther Quintero (Harvard Education Press, 2017).

    Carol Dweck’s theories about motivation and development have become mainstream in schools since her book, Mindset, was published in 2006.  It is common to hear administrators, teachers, parents, and even students talk about helping young learners adopt a “growth mindset” --expecting and embracing the idea of developing knowledge and skills over time, rather than assuming individuals are born with fixed abilities.  Yet, school leaders and teachers scarcely talk about how to adopt a growth mindset for themselves—one that assumes that educators, not only the students they teach, can improve with support and practice. Many teachers find it hard to imagine working in a school with a professional culture designed to cultivate their development, rather than one in which their effectiveness is judged and addressed with rewards and sanctions.  However, these schools do exist.

    In our research (see herehere and here*), we selected and studied six high-performing, high-poverty urban schools so that we could understand how these schools were beating the odds. Specifically, we wondered what they did to attract and develop teachers, and how teachers experienced working there. These schools, all located in one Massachusetts city, included: one traditional district school; two district turnaround schools; two state charter schools; and one charter-sponsored restart school. Based on interviews with 142 teachers and administrators, we concluded that all six schools fostered and supported a “growth mindset” for their educators.

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  • Promoting Productive Collaboration Through Inquiry: The Limits Of Policy Mandates

    Written on December 5, 2017

    Our guest author today is Robert Shand, the Novice G. Fawcett Postdoctoral Researcher in Educational Studies at The Ohio State University. His research focuses on the economics of education, teacher collaboration and professional development, and how teachers and school leaders make decisions based on data and research to improve student outcomes.

    In some ways, it is hard to dispute the traditional view that K-12 teaching is a professionally solitary activity. At the end of the day, most instruction still occurs with a single teacher standing in front of a classroom. When I tell folks that I study teacher collaboration for a living, some are puzzled – other than team teaching, what would teachers even collaborate about? Some former colleagues from my time as a middle and high school teacher even bristle at the growing demands by administrators that they collaborate. These former colleagues no doubt envision pointless meetings, contrived team-based scenarios, and freeloading colleagues trying to offload their work onto others.

    Despite these negative preconceptions, there is growing evidence that meaningful work with colleagues can enhance teacher productivity, effectiveness, and professional growth, and even increase job satisfaction. Teachers can share ideas and instructional strategies, divide the work of developing curriculum, learn from colleagues, and analyze data and evidence to solve instructional problems and help meet diverse student needs. The evidence for the potential benefits of collaboration is so compelling, and collaborative work in education is becoming so pervasive, that the Every Student Succeeds Act legally redefines professional development to include “collaborative” as part of the definition.

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  • How Relationships Drive School Improvement—And Actionable Data Foster Strong Relationships

    Written on April 20, 2017

    Our guest authors today are Elaine Allensworth, Molly Gordon and Lucinda Fickel. Allensworth is Lewis-Sebring Director of the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research; Gordon is Senior Research Analyst at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research; and Fickel is Associate Director of Policy at the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute. Elaine Allensworth explores this topic further in Teaching in Context: The Social Side of Education Reform edited by Esther Quintero (Harvard Education Press: 2017). 

    As researchers at the UChicago Consortium on School Research, we believe in using data to support school improvement, such as data on students’ performance in school (attendance, grades, behavior, test scores), surveys of students and teachers on their school experiences. But data does nothing on its own. In the quarter-century that our organization has been conducting research on Chicago Public Schools, one factor has emerged time and time again as vital both for making good use of data, and the key element in school improvement: relationships.

    Squishy and amorphous as it might initially sound, there is actually solid empirical grounding not only about the importance of relationships for student learning, but also about the organizational factors that foster strong relationships. In 2010, the Consortium published Organizing Schools for Improvement, which drew on a decade of administrative and survey data to examine a framework called the 5Essentials (Bryk et al. 2010). The book details findings that elementary/middle schools strong on the 5Essentials—strong leaders, professional capacity, parent-community ties, instructional guidance, and a student-centered learning climate—were highly likely to improve, while others showed little change or fell behind.

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