Pianta and Benbow

Two nuggets today. 1. U of Virginia Ed School dean Bob Pianta

In the Chronicle of Higher Ed, he writes:

Stop Complaining About Teacher Assessments; Find Alternatives

State agencies today certify teachers using an accumulation of academic credits and assessments that do not discriminate between good and poor performers. Nearly all graduates pass criteria that have no known association with teaching and learning in elementary and secondary classrooms.

But when teacher-preparation organizations say that state-standards tests and value-added metrics are neither reliable nor valid, they sound like unions arguing against teacher evaluation—placing blame on imperfect assessments rather than finding alternatives and testing them.

This is important. There are (at least) two groups of folks opposed to Arne Duncan's call for measuring teacher prep programs based on how their alumni do with actual kids in the classroom.

a. Some teacher prep leaders welcome it; their chief worry is precision.

b. A second group wants to avoid it entirely. Instead, they'd like to focus on those currently being trained. Moreover, they'd like that assessment to be in the form of videos. That's a topic for another day.

1b. How Do We Measure Our Alums?

With our small teacher prep program, we do three things beyond surveying alums: track employment, interview principals about the performance of our grads, and hire "blind" evaluators to see our grads in action. The evaluators also see other rookies and 2nd year teachers in the same schools, who then become our control group).

We will be adding two new measures starting next year.

a. Surveys of the children taught by our grads.

b. And student learning gains as measured by test scores.

We'll do what Pianta recommends:

...Work out the kinks in measurement, develop and test parameters of accountability that could inform policy, and use the teacher-preparation process to begin improvements (in our teacher prep program).

Massachusetts is going in this direction, so barring a U-turn in policy, every teacher prep program will get to a similar place.

However, we're eager to learn from these imperfect measures now -- and do a better job of training our next cohort.....

2. Vanderbilt Ed School dean Camilla Benbow

In the Tennessean, she writes:

Even U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has accused schools of education of doing a mediocre job....

Put simply, we can think of alternative licensure programs as emphasizing talent identification, while traditional education schools emphasize talent development.

Programs such as Teach for America are strong at talent identification. They choose their candidates from among the best students in the best colleges and universities in the country. Then they put these talented students through a boot camp and send them quickly into high-need schools, where they do, in fact, have an impact.

In comparison, most education schools enroll individuals who represent a broader range of academic experience and skills, and develop their talents over two to five years....

The abilities of novice teachers tend to improve significantly during their first few years.

Her broader point is true. Some of the alt programs, including ours, are getting a particularly strong group of recent college grads, compared to traditional ed schools. This makes it hard for us (and any other selectors of high gpa college grads) to separate our "selection effect" from our "training effect."

Dean Benbow also right that skilled teachers can serve as critical mentors/coaches.

I'd quibble with four things:

a. While TFA is the dominant player in the alternative programs, there are many non-TFA "alternative" teacher residencies which spend more on talent development than even traditional ed schools like Vanderbilt.

b. It's true that TFA does attract elite folks. Yet they also spend a lot on talent development once the teacher is deployed. My guess is this investment is far higher than what Vandy spends on their graduates.

c. Lots of TFA folks actually go to grad school. For example, all of the Boston area TFAers take classes at Boston University's ed school. So I suppose this would be talent selection and development.

d. She is right that teachers improve with experience. But here we run into a problem: the word "significant."

Statistically, it means "unlikely to be caused by chance."

Regular people, like your mom, think of that word as "sufficiently great or important to be worthy of attention."

Scholars say that -- on average -- teaching experience is "significant" only in the first meaning. But not the second.

The green teachers are a bit better than the blue teachers.

See my blog post here if you're curious about this.