Tag Archives: Dan Goldhaber

The Shibboleths of Tenure Haters

Checker Finn gives the “ending teacher tenure” argument the old college try:

Tenure arrived in K–12 education as a trickle-down from higher ed. Will the demise of tenure follow a similar sequence? Let us earnestly pray for it—for tenure’s negatives today outweigh its positives—but let us not count on it.

Yeah, let’s not.

I wish all these tenure-haters would at least acknowledge that teachers can be easily dismissed in some circumstances. Teachers are fired for crossing clear, bright lines is done every day. Having sex with students? Gone.  Proven violence against students? Buh-bye.

Even fuzzy lines lead to firing if the circumstances allow it. Have a past or a present that’s simply….distracting? Easy.  Have an unpopular opinion? Game over. 

Firing teachers simply because the boss just doesn’t think they’re very good? Book some time, start a file, document madly, hit every deadline, give them a lousy schedule and hope they get the hint and leave.

We teachers don’t really have free speech or a right to privacy in any meaningful way, if the students know about it. But we also don’t have any agreement on what makes a bad teacher, which turns out to be our secret weapon. It’s much easier to fire an exemplary teacher who strips (or, gulp, blogs) in private than it is to fire a mediocre one whose students are bored. A new principal who really wants to ‘clean house’ and bring in a bunch of bright shiny new cheap teachers to do her bidding is doomed to disappointment.

You’d think by now that any article pushing to “fire bad teachers” would start by making that distinction, but here I’m the one likely to be disappointed.

Checker’s a bright guy, capable of thoughtful discussion. But here he brings up a goofy red herring, arguing public school teachers don’t deserve the same protections that university professors do.

I’m not convinced by the analogy. K-12 tenure is “trickle down” from university tenure? Eh, maybe. While many journalists give Massachusetts credit for instituting teacher tenure in 1886,  the text of the law doesn’t suggest any such thing. More accurately, I think, New Jersey first passed teacher protection laws in 1910. By 1930, tenure had come to most states, and by the 1950s, some 80% of teachers had tenure.  The push for women’s suffrage, the ridiculous controls schools boards put on teachers’ private lives, nepotism, and a desire for good governance were all involved in granting K-12 tenure (Dana Goldstein agrees, a tad repetitively.)

Ultimately,  university tenure became much more about lifelong employment and academic freedom–similar to judicial appointments. Teacher tenure, on the other hand, began as and remains an offering of job security, more akin to my favorite parallel for the teaching profession: police. So the four or five paragraphs Checker devotes to arguing that K-12 teachers don’t really need academic freedom is pointless.

I agree, we don’t need academic freedom. Which is good, because we don’t have it and have never had it. That’s why I’m anonymous.

Checker asks:

How valuable is job security to the employee….Would you rather earn $50,000 a year in a job that you know will continue indefinitely and does not depend on performance, or $75,000 in a job that is assured only for a several-year term and where renewal of the position hinges on your performance in it?

But Checker’s own organization surveys teachers on this very issue every year. Did he forget? Why not cite his own data? Probably because it shoots his case down cold. Teachers are quite consistent: less than 1 in 5 wants merit pay.   3 in 5 teachers in EdNext’s survey think tenure’s a good idea.

Checker again:

It’s no secret that the HR practices of private and charter schools—neither of which typically practices tenure—work far better than those of district schools from the standpoint of both school leaders and their students.

This, too, is a curious argument to make. First,  given the fact that neither private nor charter schools have managed to post extraordinary gains over publics, Checker’s claim that tenure is better for students is a bit shaky. At best, all the selection bias and skimming has gotten Checker’s preferred options are a few fractions of a standard deviation, if that.

As for flexibility working better for school leaders–well, immediately before Checker’s article is this piece by Kirsten Schmitz: Why do Private School Teachers Have Such High Turnover Rates? Bad timing, that. Charter turnover is so high we have a term for it.

So Checker’s got some chutzpah in asserting that privates and charters get a big win out of flexibility.

(Notice whose standpoint isn’t mentioned, of course, when discussing hiring flexibility. Notice, too, that Checker argued for decreasing job security as a tradeoff for improving teacher pay but neglects to mention that private schools pay far less than public schools.)

A while back, Paul Bruno argued that teacher tenure is a perk, since the reality is that our chances of being fired are quite low. Bruno’s logic here has never, to my knowledge, been engaged and it’s inescapable:

One of the central tensions for reformers when it comes to improving teacher quality is that on the one hand they believe teachers are fighting desperately for excessive job security but also, on the other hand, that you can substantially reduce that job security without making teaching significantly less attractive.

In theory this is not impossible. Making it work, however, requires admitting that job security is a benefit for teachers and that taking it away will – all else equal – make being a teacher less appealing.

Bruno believes (or believed, he hasn’t been writing for a while) that teacher valuation of tenure is overrated, since we’re not really at risk of being fired, anyway.  I agree we’re not at risk of being fired, and tenure vs untenured doesn’t seem related. Compare terminations per district (per teachers per district) in tenured or non-tenured states. My rough take is that terminations has as much to do with size of the district as it does tenure policy (the smaller the average district size, the more firings, particularly in rural areas or charter districts).

But  freedom from random firing because a new boss has a new agenda is of considerable value–Paul cites 10% of salary, I’d guess more. Moreover, bosses get extremely tempted to cut payroll by canning older employees. Freedom from that fear is worth a few ducats, too.

Meanwhile, as Checker advocates for easier teacher dismissals, Idaho and South Dakotas legislatures’ attempt to end tenure was  rejected by voters.  In CaliforniaMinnesota, and North Carolina , the courts did the rejecting. Kansas, which did successfully end tenure, is now working to enact legislation to bring it back. Wisconsin’s rollback of tenure and union protections may have led to the state’s teacher shortage, but it’s definitely increased district hopping as teachers negotiate better salaries–not, perhaps, the ideal outcome for anyone but those teachers. Yet Checker acts as if schools are groaning under the weight of unwelcome pension-pathers.

Supply’s the problem, Checker. Firing teachers, ending tenure, pay for performance–those are the choices available in a teacher glut. No one has really pinned down the nature of the current teacher shortage–I wasn’t terribly impressed with this recent study, although I quite like Goldhaber usually–but  state behavior of late is pretty consistently taking actions to increase supply. New York’s much derided decision to end the literacy credential test, Illinois similar decision to reduce the testing requirements for  teacher credentials, large California districts aggressively recruiting senior teachers from smaller districts with moving bonuses and removing the work years cap for salary calculation(a big disincentive for switching districts)–that’s just a small sample. Most states are making decisions that suggest they’re worried about getting and keeping teachers.

Checker knows better. But his audience–and his funders–don’t. So he keeps spinning the same old line.

Random but not unrelated: My administrator just emailed me my review, with an  “outstanding” rating,  I am convinced administrators meet up and decide which handful of teachers are going to get singled out for top marks while the rest (usually including me) get lumped into “satisfactory”.  Administrators, like bosses everywhere, are restricted on how many top marks they can give out. Most teachers I know realize the box checked isn’t as important as the review text–is it anemic, or strong? Complimentary or critical? The box, eh.  But if you think I shrugged off this rating, ask yourself why I mentioned it.

Continue reading


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.