Sunday, November 13, 2011

Research Doesn't Back Up Key Education Reforms

Research doesn’t back up key ed reforms
By Valerie Strauss
There is no solid evidence supporting many of the positions on teachers and teacher evaluation taken by some school reformers today, according to a new assessment of research on the subject.

The Education Writers Association released a new brief that draws on more than 40 research studies or research syntheses, as well as interviews with scholars who work in this field.

You can read the entire brief (written by Education Week assistant editor Stephen Sawchuk), but here are the bottom-line conclusions of each section:

Q) Are teachers the most important factor affecting student achievement?

A) Research has shown that the variation in student achievement is predominantly a product of individual and family background characteristics. Of the school factors that have been isolated for study, teachers are probably the most important determinants of how students will perform on standardized tests.

Q) Are value-added estimations reliable or stable?

A) Value-added models appear to pick up some differences in teacher quality, but they can be influenced by a number of factors, such as the statistical controls selected. They may also be affected by the characteristics of schools and peers. The impact of unmeasured factors in schools, such as principals and choice of curriculum, is less clear.

Q) What are the differences in achievement between students who have effective or ineffective teachers for several years in a row?

A) Some teachers produce stronger achievement gains among their students than others do. However, estimates of an individual teacher’s effectiveness can vary from year to year, and the impact of an effective teacher seems to decrease with time. The cumulative effect on students’ learning from having a succession of strong teachers is not clear.

Q) Do teacher characteristics such as academic achievement, years of experience, and certification affect student test scores?

A) Teachers improve in effectiveness at least over their first few years on the job. Characteristics such as board certification, and content knowledge in math sometimes are linked with student achievement. Still, these factors don’t explain much of the differences in teacher effectiveness overall.

Q) Does merit pay for teachers produce better student achievement or retain more-effective teachers?

A) In the United States, merit pay exclusively focused on rewarding teachers whose students produce gains has not been shown to improve student achievement, though some international studies show positive effects. Research has been mixed on comprehensive pay models that incorporate other elements, such as professional development. Scholars are still examining whether such programs might work over time by attracting more effective teachers.

Q) Do students in unionized states do better than students in states without unions?

A) Students tend to do well in some heavily unionized states, but it isn’t possible to conclude that it is the presence or absence of unions that cause that achievement.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Good News from ISTA President Nate Schnellenberger

November 9, 2011

In a historic, decisive and crucial victory, last night our neighbors in Ohio voted overwhelmingly to repeal Senate Bill 5 – Gov. John Kasich’s attack on public employee collective bargaining rights. By a nearly two-to-one margin, Ohio’s voters told Gov. Kasich and members of Ohio’s legislature that “enough is enough” – the attack on teachers, firefighters, nurses and other public employees needs to stop.

According to a leader in the We Are Ohio organization, Ohioians sent a message to all politicians last night: We don’t turn our backs on people who watch ours, and they used their citizen veto to reject Senate Bill 5.

Hoosier educators and others who support our state’s middle class need to take Ohio’s enthusiasm and make sure it spreads during the upcoming legislative session and 2012 election campaign. I am sure that if collective bargaining rights were put on the ballot in Indiana, we would see similar results to what happened yesterday in Ohio. Overwhelmingly, Hoosiers support the rights of teachers and other public employees.

Ohio’s results should give us hope as Hoosiers that we, too, can get ready now for tomorrow’s victories. This battle isn’t about Republicans. It isn’t about Democrats. It’s about giving educators and other middle class workers a voice on their jobs. It’s about protecting and growing middle class jobs.

Please take a few minutes to celebrate Ohio’s victory, but keep in mind that Indiana educators, their friends and families need to find their own energy and commitment to stop the continued attacks against them orchestrated during the last session of the General Assembly.

Let’s remind Indiana’s policymakers to take a long, hard look at the message that Ohio voters sent to their governor and legislature yesterday. We are all in this fight together – and we all need to do whatever we can for us to be successful.

Let’s learn from what our Ohio colleagues accomplished yesterday – they spoke up, they knocked on doors, they phone banked, they spoke at public forums, they never backed away from discussing or debating the issues with their friends, their neighbors, their policymakers or with the media. They spoke truth to power. And they won.

We can certainly take hope and inspiration from our neighbors to the east.

Some early and interesting analysis from We Are Ohio:

  • The vote to repeal Senate Bill 5 won in 82 of Ohio’s 88 counties.
  • 2,145,042 No votes were cast for repeal – 255,862 more votes than Gov. Kasich received in his 2010 election win.
  • Statewide turnout was nearly 3.5 million votes – the highest turnout in decades for an off-year election in the state.

There's also good election news from our neighbor to the north, the Michigan Education Association. They targeted for recall the chairman of the House Education Committee for his support of policies that weakened teacher tenure and cut funding to public education. Last night, after the results were in, Republican state Rep. Paul Scott accepted the results showing he had been recalled by the voters in his district.

MEA officials said the recall vote reflects backlash over anti-public education policies adopted since Gov. Rick Snyder became governor this year and his political party gained control of both legislative chambers.