Teacher Quality Report: Lacking a Certain Quality

October flew by. I actually did a lot of writing, but not where anyone can see it. Plus, I’ve had my butt kicked, bronchially speaking. Apparently I’m asthmatic, but the only thing that means to me is that I hang on to coughs forever. So here it is October and just two posts? 20 days between? That might be a record. Even weirder, this has been my biggest month–25K+ views. Go figure. But let’s see if I can get two done in a day.

First up is a bit of a greatest hits montage occasioned by this report on Gains in Teacher Quality by Dan Goldhaber and Joe Walch.

I noticed some, er, broad claims.

Smart Teachers are Better?

From the report: And the evidence on the importance of teacher academic proficiency generally suggests that effectiveness in raising student test scores is associated with strong cognitive skills as measured by SAT or licensure test scores, or the competitiveness of the college from which teachers graduate.

Nice to see a mention of licensure test scores, although not in the right context. But as Dan Goldhaber himself observed,

..we see that Black and other minority students appear to benefit from being matched with a Black teacher regardless of how well or poorly that teacher performed on the Praxis tests, and these positive effects due to matching with Black teachers are comparable in magnitude to having the highest-performing White teachers in the classroom. Removing the lowest of performers on the exam would necessarily remove some of the teachers that appear to be most effective for this segment of the student population.

He also found that there’s no relationship between licensure scores and reading effectiveness, but that licensure test scores operate as a reasonable screening device for white teachers and math. But not black teachers, I guess.

And RAND found less than that:

The results show large differences in teacher quality across the school district, but measured teacher characteristics explain little of the difference. Teacher licensure test scores are unrelated to teacher success in the classroom. Similarly, student achievement is unaffected by whether classroom teachers have advanced degrees. Student achievement increases with teacher experience, but the linkage is weak and largely reflects poor outcomes for teachers during their first year or two in the classroom.

Is there anything relating teacher quality to SAT scores? I couldn’t find it, but (and I mean this seriously) I may have missed it. Can You Recognize an Effective Teacher When You Recruit One? says there isn’t much of a link:

some researchers have found that teachers with stronger academic backgrounds produce larger performance gains for their children (see, for example, Clotfelter et al. (2006, 2007), in addition to the reviews cited above). However, there are also a number of studies which do not find this relationship (e.g., Harris and Sass (2006) on graduate course work and Kane et al. (2006) on college selectivity). …While several early studies failed to find a significant relationship between college admissions scores and principals’ evaluations of new teachers (e.g., Maguire (1966), Ducharme (1970)), a well cited study by Ladd and Ferguson (1996) did find a link between scores on the ACT exam and student achievement growth.

I often notice a study mentioning the “consistent” or “pervasive” link between teacher cognitive ability and student achievement, but all the research I find says that no conclusive link has been found, that some studies find a relationship, some don’t. Research is no more supportive of the smarter teachers campaign than it is for stricter gun control or tougher drug laws. Sorry.

Teachers used to be smart women, but no more

Another quote:

Over the course of the next 35 years, women still made up the vast majority of the teacher workforce, but their academic credentials began to decline. Research by Sean Corcoran, William Evans, and Robert Schwab indicates that the likelihood of a female teacher having been among the highest-scoring 10 percent of high school students on standardized achievement tests fell sharply between 1971 and 2000, from 24 to 11 percent.

Corcoran, Evans, and Schwab said that, but they said a lot more:

In the results presented here we find some evidence of a slight but detectable decline in the relative ability of the average new female teacher, when ability is measured as one’s centile rank in the distribution of high school graduates on a standardized test of verbal and mathematical aptitude. The magnitude of this decline is even greater when measuring ability using standardized scores. We also find that examination of the entire distribution of new teachers is more informative than trends in central tendency alone. Over the 1964–2000 period, women near the top of the test score distribution became much less likely to enter the teaching pro- fession than their peers near the middle of the distribution. The apparent conse- quence has been a much lower representation of women of very high academic abil- ity in the pool of elementary and secondary teachers. While the sample sizes of male teachers are much smaller, we detect the opposite trend among men.

Huh. So on average, women teachers are mostly as bright. (Consider that we have a lot more special ed teachers, who are predominantly female and who have scores as low or lower than elementary teachers.) But fewer really really smart women. Count that as a big “so what”, particularly since, as the report observes, we’re getting some more bright men.

But again, we don’t even know if we need really smart teachers.

We have no data on teacher quality

Absent persuasive evidence on the impact of efforts to raise the bar, some people have speculated that the rise of test-based accountability associated with NCLB and the ongoing push to establish more-rigorous teacher evaluation systems have made teaching less attractive and thereby contributed to further decline in the quality of the teaching corps. (emphasis mine)

Oh, come on. That’s crap. ETS has been telling the world that teacher metrics, particularly in elementary and middle school, have increased dramatically. I’ve written about this extensively, but I’ll just link in #5 on the list of heavily trafficked posts, Teacher Quality Pseudofacts, Part II, which has the most linked image on this site, and a link to this ETS report on teacher quality:

In summary, the following can be said about overall licensure patterns and academic quality during the last decade, at least for the states included in this study:

  • Passing rates have decreased substantially.

  • The academic profile of the entire candidate pool has improved.
  • The academic profile of those passing the Praxis tests has improved.
  • These improvements are consistent across gender, race/ethnicity, and licensure area.
  • Profiles are markedly different for secondary subject teachers in contrast to elementary, special education, and physical education teachers.
  • The decrease in passing rates is likely attributable to increasingly demanding testing requirements put in place during these intervening years.

Yeah, the licensure tests! How about those?

Things that Shouldn’t Make You Go Hmmmm

After going through the many ways in which teacher metrics have improved over a seven year period, the authors scratch their heads:

What explains the apparent rise in academic competency among new teachers? As we show, the SAT scores of those seeking and finding employment in a teaching job differ in different years. It is possible that alternative pathways into the teaching profession have become an important source of academic talent for the profession. Unfortunately, we cannot explore this issue in any depth because the way in which teachers were asked about their preparation has varied over time. Regardless, alternative routes are unlikely to be the primary explanation for the changing SAT trends given that, with a few high-profile exceptions like Teach for America, alternative certification programs are not highly selective.

Wow, introduce alternative certification and before I have a chance to get huffy, walk it back. Damn skippy alternative certification programs are not highly selective. Many are set up specifically to recruit URM teachers, and in many ways “alternative certification”, outside of TFA, is a proxy for black and Hispanic teachers.

The 1998 Higher Education Act required ed schools to prove that 80% of their candidates passed all licensure tests. If I understand the politics correctly, the law was intended to force ed schools to spend more time covering content, which is absurd. Ed schools responded predictably—who the hell wants to teach 6th grade math in college?—requiring candidates pass at least one licensure test to be eligible for admission. A couple years later, NCLB’s “highly qualified teacher” criteria led to a wholesale increase in elementary and middle school content knowledge requirements, reflected in much tougher licensure tests.

So the 1998 Higher Education Act, coupled with the tougher licensure tests of the NCLB era, led to a tremendous decline in black and Hispanic teachers overall, and their virtual disappearance from education schools. Alternative certification programs sprung up as a way to bring in more URM teachers—they aren’t bound by the 1998 law, so they can bring in candidates and then spend most of the training time teaching them the content to pass the test.

Have you been paying attention? Because it’s pretty friggin’ obvious why the “academic competency” of teachers has improved. I’ve been writing about this forever. THE LICENSURE TESTS ARE HARDER. I shouted this back in March (It’s the test, Zitbrains!) and at least twice on the Clarence Mumford case, and I don’t know how to holler it any louder.

This authors mention the licensure tests twice, but never for the right reason. They never once consider whether the tests might be a source of the increase. In fact, they never seem to realize that their report is largely redundant, since ETS covered the same ground six years ago.

Meanwhile, despite this big boost in teacher “academic competency”, which I’ve been writing about for two years, we aren’t seeing a corresponding huge boost in student academic outcomes, and all research continues to show that, at best, the link between teacher cognitive ability and student outcomes is twitchy and unreliable. All research continues to play the Reverse Drinking Game and ignore student cognitive ability. Math professors assure us that the only difference between “math people” and everyone else is effort, and that anyone with an IQ of 70 can learn algebra.

So, here’s what I think, but can’t prove: our teachers are pulled roughly from the same pool as always, which is the 35-50% for elementary and special ed teachers, and 50-75% for secondary content teachers. But the bottom quintile or so is gone because of higher licensure standards, so the average has increased. This has resulted in far fewer black and Hispanic teachers, particularly black teachers. Existing black teachers are also being forced out of the profession by new requirements (hence the Mumford impersonation fraud ring).

Remember, anyone who pushes for improved teacher qualifications is saying, in effect, we need fewer black and Hispanic teachers. And, as the recent TFA study’s big takeaway shows, all you get for largely eradicating black and Hispanic teachers is, maybe, .07 of a standard deviation.

Just today Dara Zeehandelaar commented on my blog:

The point is that students might benefit if traditional certification programs were more selective in who they admitted (for example, by admitting students with higher GRE scores, higher undergraduate GPAs, undergraduate or even graduate coursework in the content area in which they want to teach, professional experience, etc. — the same things that TFA looks for). “Selectivity” in this case has nothing to do with race.

She said this with a straight face, too.

Sorry, Dara. Selectivity in this case has everything to do with race.

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30 responses to “Teacher Quality Report: Lacking a Certain Quality

  • James Thompson

    To evaluate outcomes one must always measure two things: student ability and teaching effectiveness. The latter is a mixture of teacher ability and the quality of the syllabus material. At a pinch, I would measure student ability first, because we have solid data that intelligence accounts for about 70% of scholastic outcomes.
    And, welcome back, unless you have decided, on purely actuarial grounds, that you gain most readers by not posting things, in which case stay away from messing up a good formula. Hope the cough clears up.

    • educationrealist

      THe allergies that caused the original attack came back before the first cough left. Very irritating, and worse, I suspect it’s just going to be an affliction of age. But thanks!

      I’ve also been doing a lot of reading/writing–just haven’t finished anything. So I think November will be big.

    • educationrealist

      I do think teacher quality matters, but not necessarily for achievement. It’s much like parenting–if nurture doesn’t change much in the way of outcomes, does that mean we can just cheerfully neglect our kids? I hope not.

  • panjoomby

    the way to make teacher quality matter more is to make all students the same ability :)

  • Hattie

    Serious question:

    How have The Educational Powers That Be avoided (at the very least) massive disparate impact lawsuits? Because this seems way worse than what gets private companies dragged before the politburo.

    • educationrealist

      I’ve wondered the same thing. I know that there was a class action suit in California over the CBEST, and they lost. But there’ve been 20 years since then and I don’t think research supports the “smarter teachers = better teachers” enough to pass muster. Last time, it was considered somewhat axiomatic. The test was simple, anyone who couldn’t pass it must be incompetent, right? Right? Apparently not.

  • Jim

    You can’t execute someone with an IQ below 70 because it is assumed that they cannot understand the most basic social norms but someone with an IQ of 70 can understand algebra. I’m not sure someone with an IQ of 70 can play BINGO.

  • panjoomby

    if you could let teacher ability vary the full range of IQ (you know, like from 20 to 170-ish) you could probably show some modest relationship between teacher ability & student achievement (vegetable-level-IQ teachers would not be very effective – tho bright kids might then learn the subject on their own). but, teacher certification tests (praxis – PLT/PPST?) restrict the range a bit, by establishing maybe an 85 or 90 IQ cutoff. Similarly, few IQs of 145 & above go into teaching, at least K-12. (the few that do write blogs about it! :) there is often a hidden “restriction of range” when looking at relationships between variables – e.g., when people argue the SAT or GRE doesn’t predict that well – um, they certainly would if we had everyone, even vegetable level IQs, in the data.

    • educationrealist

      Agreed on restriction of range, and I’ve said before that teacher competency has a basement. We’re just not sure where it is, and I believe it’s quite possible we’re above it, now. We’ve dramatically increased cognitive ability requirements in this decade–hasn’t helped. No research –but then, no one talks about licensure tests!

  • susan

    In the past, smart women had few career options. My grandmother, mother, and aunts were all teachers. In contrast, my sister is a banker and I am a lawyer. I guess you can thank feminism for the decrease of smart women in the teaching profession.

    • educationrealist

      Well yes, but what surprised me is the weakness of the claim. The average qualifications of teachers have barely budged, despite many assertions to the contrary.

      • susan

        I wonder if that has something to do with fewer professional options for people interested in the humanities. There are a lot of good career options for bright people interested in STEM subjects. There are not as many options for those who are interested in Chaucer. I liked history and English, so I went to law school. My only other good option would have been teaching. Maybe this also explains why teaching is becoming a more attractive option to bright men?

  • Der Alte

    I apologize if you’ve addressed this already, but a quick look over your article did not find it.

    Could it be that very smart kids benefit most from very smart teachers?
    My guess is that what smart kids need to achieve up their potentials (at least in a school class) is
    (a) to be tracked with other smart kids and
    (b) a teacher capable of challenging them in an effective way.

    • educationrealist

      That is probably more true than not, but it would not be captured by these studies, which are almost always low achieving kids.

      But there are lots of mid-intelligence teachers who are gangbusters in their subject, just to complicate things.

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  • Steve Sailer

    I have some familiarity with the California test to become a high school math teacher, and — guess what? — it’s kind of hard.

    • educationrealist

      I’ve linked in California’s tests before. Three for math, three for history, four for English. They are all quite difficult, the math in particular. I’ve heard from many people that the science tests in each state and the Praxis are relatively easy, but that’s the one I don’t take.

      I’ve been pointing this out for the two years I’ve had the blog. I think I’ve convinced Steve Sawchuk of Ed Week, who has been writing about the impact of the new requirements on URM teachers.

  • Tina

    But if the black students do remarkably better with a black teacher, then there should be black teachers available to the black kids.

  • That Guy

    I’m not convinced black students do remarkably better with black teachers; that’s certainly not what Coleman et-al. found. I might believe that today’s black students in schools with many black teachers get higher local test scores because of non-academic factors. Or that black kids do slightly better with black teachers for the same sort of reasons that kids do better with teachers who speak the same languages they do.

    To a different point, Steve Sailer has looked at whether “70 IQ” means the same thing socially for kids of different races. In white or East Asian kids such a low IQ may be linked with other, more or less obvious health problems like Down’s syndrome and/or cognitive-development problems which lead to weird affects and/or strange emotional profiles. But with kids of other races, a low IQ may not indicate any health problem and none-too-bright kids may have normal affects, etc. Youngsters of low intelligence may exhibit poor planning or judgement, may appear “too emotional” to Federal appeals court judges and cerebrotonic white upper-middle-class “school reform” enthusiasts, but may be quite capable of learning right from wrong and functioning in society doing menial but respectable jobs. Many upper-class whites seem unaware that someone can be stupid without being spastic.

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  • EH

    Of course teacher intelligence isn’t going to make much difference when they aren’t allowed to apply that intelligence in any significant way: subjects, curriculum, approach, materials, schedule – only little variations are tolerated. And even if one did somehow illuminate students with a full understanding of, say n-dimensional hypercomplex analysis in 6th grade, those kids would have to go back to pre-algebra or algebra next year. Any gains would be more than wiped out in short order, if not by mere disuse, by demoralizing students having their faces rubbed in the fact that the system could not care less what the students can do so long as they don’t drag down school scores.

    Teacher intelligence does help so far as knowing the subject that they are teaching, but that’s a low bar for the mass classes. It isn’t as low when dealing with gifted kids, but that’s a couple of percent of the population – a crucial 2%, though. A great mismatch in intelligence between student and teacher may be counterproductive – they can not understand one another’s thought processes.

    • educationrealist

      Maybe, but I can’t see anyway that IQ matters a huge amount in elementary school (except with the top 10%, but even there, I doubt it. I see the kids later, and elementary school hasn’t harmed them much.)

      In high school, there are so many different ways to make content accessible. A really good algebra teacher might have a 110 IQ, or a really good English teacher who excels at composition might have a 110 or 115 IQ.

      I suspect that there is a basement, but the current praxis tests are making sure we’re above that, is my guess.

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