Author Archives: Kaitlin Pennington

California’s Revised Bid to Kill Income Tax for Teachers is Still a Bad Idea

A bill providing tax credits to teachers in California is making its way through the state’s legislature. Last month Andy Rotherham and I wrote that Senate Bill 807, the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act, is a gimmicky way to pay teachers more and takes a one-size-fits-all approach to solving a targeted teacher shortage problem.

It looks like the authors of SB807 may have noticed our critique. Since its introduction, the legislation has been revised. Instead of exempting all teachers who remain in the profession for more than five years from paying state taxes, the revised legislation is focused on teachers in high-poverty communities. The new language gives teachers in high-poverty schools immediate state tax relief on half of their income in their sixth through tenth years of teaching.

Admittedly, the revised legislation is better than the original because it takes a more targeted approach to teacher shortage issues. But it’s still a bad idea. As Andy and I wrote, if California legislators want to pay teachers more, then they should just pay teachers more. Providing teachers with tax incentives is a confusing way to raise teacher compensation and doesn’t get at the foundational issues of under-resourced schools and misaligned, archaic state and district teacher compensation systems. This bill — in any form — tinkers at the edges of and distracts from larger issues in California.

This week the bill passed the California Senate Governance and Finance Committee with a unanimous vote, and it’s now headed to the Senate Education Committee. But California lawmakers would be better off if they stop trying to revive this bill and, instead, focus on the larger school finance problems in the state.

Trump’s Proposal to Eliminate This Teacher-Focused Program Could be an Opportunity

President Trump’s newly released budget would slash $9 billion or 13.5 percent of funding from the Department of Education. That’s a dramatic change. It’s important to remember, however, that Congress controls the country’s purse strings, so a President’s budget proposal serves more as a statement of priorities than a concrete action plan.

For those of us who work on teacher quality issues, that’s a relief. For one, Trump’s proposed Education Department cuts include the complete elimination of the roughly $2.3 billion Title II program. States and districts use Title II’s Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants for teacher quality activities, like recruiting teachers and supporting effective instruction.  

Unsurprisingly, the mention of defunding Title II has teachers unions and advocacy organizations up in arms. Many state departments of education, districts, and schools have relied on this funding to support teacher-related activities for years.

But the effectiveness of the Title II dollars spent is questionable. Although states and districts are given a wide array of choices on how to spend Title II dollars, they tend to stick to the same activities. A closer look at the data on Title II use reveals that for more than a decade, districts have been using at least three quarters of Title II funding on just two activities: class-size reduction and professional development.

Title II

Data via U.S. Department of Education; Chart via author.

This funding allocation is problematic because there is no data to suggest that class-size reduction or professional development widely or consistently impact student achievement. Research shows that the effects of class-size reduction are restricted to only certain grades, with particular influence on students in early elementary grades. And while some districts and schools have been able to crack the code to ensure that teacher professional development positively impacts student learning, it is not happening at scale. Continue reading

Ignore the Headlines and Dig into the Results: The Real Impact of Teacher Evaluation Reform

FL StoryThe headline “Florida teacher evaluations: Most everyone good or very good” in last week’s Orlando Sentinel felt like déjà vu. Similar headlines have graced the pages of local newspapers across the country, leading readers to assume that recent reforms of teacher evaluation systems weren’t worth the effort because teachers continue to receive high ratings. But that first impression is incomplete.

My colleague Sara Mead and I grappled with this idea in a recent report. At first blush, it’s true that reformed teacher evaluation systems haven’t substantially changed the distribution of teacher evaluation ratings. And there are logical explanations for those results.

But focusing purely on the final evaluation ratings misses important progress underneath the overall results. For example, my colleague Chad Aldeman highlighted a few specific places where teacher evaluation reforms served broader school improvement efforts. The progress does not stop there. The following studies point to other positive outcomes from teacher evaluation reform:

  • Greater job satisfaction among effective teachers. A new study of Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system released earlier this month found that when teachers receive higher ratings under the state’s reformed teacher evaluation system, the perceptions of their work improve relative to teachers who received lower ratings.
  • Higher turnover of less effective teachers. A 2016 report on the state of the teaching profession in North Carolina found that, for teachers at every experience level, those who left the profession had lower overall evaluation ratings and lower effects on student growth than teachers who stayed. The graph below shows the picture for student growth. The blue line shows the growth scores for teachers who remained as teachers in North Carolina, and the red line shows those who left. We don’t know if this is a story of correlation or causation, but at least North Carolina can now point to data showing that they’re retaining the best teachers.
NC Chart

Click to enlarge

  • Higher turnover of less effective probationary teachers. Similar to the outcomes in North Carolina, a 2014 study of New York City public schools found that teachers who had their probationary periods extended — that is, who were told they weren’t effective enough at that time to earn tenure — voluntarily left their teaching positions at higher rates. Although New York wasn’t actively dismissing low-performers, this notice was enough to “nudge” them to consider other professions.
  • Improvement of overall teacher quality. A study of DC Public Schools’ (DCPS) teacher evaluation system, IMPACT, shows that the evaluation system encouraged the voluntary turnover of low-performing teachers. When the lower performing teachers left the district, leaders in the district filled the open teaching positions with new teachers who were more effective than the ones who left. The result has been a rise in overall teacher quality in DCPS.

These and other teacher evaluation studies are complicated. They are not prone to eye-catching headlines. But nonetheless, teacher evaluation systems may be quietly having an effect on which teachers stay in the profession and, ultimately, whether students are learning.

Student Learning Should Matter for Teacher Evaluation Ratings, But It Still Doesn’t

Students are not learning, but teachers are told they’re doing their jobs effectively. This oxymoron is not new in American education, but recent teacher evaluation laws were supposed to demolish it by better aligning teacher evaluation scores and student learning outcomes.

NCTQ Report PicThe problem is: the laws aren’t working as intended. Even with new laws in place, the vast majority of teachers across the country continue to receive a rating equivalent to effective or higher. A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) provides a new explanation for the phenomenon.

The report reveals that in almost all states, there are teachers who receive an overall evaluation score of “effective” or “highly effective” despite receiving a low score for leading students to academic achievement. This is possible because these teachers receive high scores on other parts of the evaluation such as principal and peer observations, student and parent surveys, and other district and state measures. As NCTQ’s new report details, the guidance and rules that structure states’ evaluation laws allow teachers who receive uneven scores throughout their evaluation to still be rated as effective practitioners — even when data show their students are not learning.

NCTQ’s report provides a new opportunity to discuss the negative consequences of misalignment between teacher evaluation and student learning outcomes. The following are a few damaging outcomes of such misalignment: Continue reading

New Bellwether Analysis on Michigan Education Provides Facts for DeVos Debate

When President Donald Trump nominated Betsy DeVos to serve as his Secretary of Education, she was not well known on a national scale: her behind-the-scenes advocacy and philanthropic work has concentrated on her home state of Michigan. But DeVos’ nomination put a national spotlight on education in Michigan, and her critics and boosters alike have been making a variety of claims about Michigan that are confusing and contradictory.

Slide1To address this, Bellwether just released a fact base on education in Michigan to inform the conversation about DeVos’ work there and what it might mean for the Department of Education if she is confirmed.

Our slide deck report addresses a number of key questions: How are Michigan students performing, and what do achievement gaps look like for low-income students and students of color? Do charter schools in Michigan produce better results than district-run public schools, and if so, by how much? Why does Michigan have so many charter schools operated by for-profit companies?

Among the things we found:

  • Michigan typically ranks in the lowest third of states in terms of student proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and state assessment results show wide achievement gaps by racial/ethnic group and income level.
  • Educational authority in Michigan is highly decentralized, with multiple state governing entities and over 40 charter school authorizers.
  • About 150,000 Michigan students attend public charter schools, making up 10 percent of the student population.
  • Another 200,000 students, or 13 percent, take advantage of inter-district choice options to attend schools outside of their home district.
  • On average, students attending charter schools learn more than comparable students attending district-run schools. However, producing greater learning gains compared to schools serving similar students is a low bar because most Michigan charters are in Detroit, one of the lowest-performing large, urban school districts in the country.
  • Repeated reform efforts to improve Detroit Public Schools (DPS) have not produced academic improvements for students or solved the ongoing financial crisis in the school district. A new law reinstates local control over DPS, limits charter school expansion to nationally accredited authorizers, and creates an A-F accountability system for both charter schools and traditional public schools.

Through data analysis and a deeper dive into the context of the Michigan education landscape, we hope to inform the ongoing debate about DeVos and give new insight into education in Michigan. The state has been a laboratory for school choice and educational reform efforts, and demands a more complete context and deeper analysis than sound bytes can provide. Read the full report here and let us know what you think.