Quality Counts 2008: Tapping Into Teaching

The report's editors discussed this year's findings.
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January 11, 2008

Quality Counts 2008: Tapping Into Teaching

Janelle Callahan (Moderator):

Welcome to today’s live chat on Quality Counts 2008 with Lynn Olson and Christopher Swanson. Thank you for joining us. Let’s start the discussion.

Question from Hayes Mizell, Distinguished Senior Fellow, National Staff Development Council:

The report indicates that most states have the “basics” covered when it comes to capacity building, but follow-through is a problem. In the context of professional development, please discuss how follow-through is a problem and what some states are doing about it?

Lynn Olson:

Hayes, we found that 41 states have adopted standards for professional development. But only 24 states finance professional development across all the districts in the state, only 16 require districts or schools to set aside time for professional development, and only 30 require districts to align professional development with local priorities and goals. And those relatively simple indicators don’t begin to get at more detailed questions, such as how coherent state or district PD offerings are, the extent to whether districts or schools have to really document that the professional development they offer targets student-learning needs, or whether they professional development is job-embedded, ongoing, and of high quality. Some of that, as you know, is really hard to measure and document in a 50-state survey but ripe for attention.

Question from Janet Bates, Middle School Math Teacher, White Knoll Middle School:

What conclusions can we draw from the data showing excellent teacher standards and compliance, yet low performing schools and students?

Christopher Swanson:

We often receive questions along these lines, asking about the connection between the policies we examine and patterns of student achievement. Rigorously analyzing the policy-performance connection is difficult to do. Answering those kinds of questions isn’t usually the focus of Quality Counts. However, we occasionally engage in that type of study (see the EPE Research Center’s “Making the Connection” report that accompanied Quality Counts 2006 as an example). A number of caveats usually apply. For example, there is a potential chicken-and-egg issue to contend with. In other words, one might get a misleading impression by taking a snapshot of policy and performance at a particular point in time. Many states adopt policies (in the area of teaching or elsewhere) as a way to address low levels of achievement (which may have a long history in the state). More specific to this year’s report, though, I would add that we have introduced a new framework on teacher policy that is quite different than ones used in the past. So Quality Counts 2008 should be thought of as a new baseline for tracking forward-looking and innovative state policies aimed at strengthening the teaching profession. In a few more years, it might be appropriate to look back and see how this new generation of teaching policy has influenced student achievement. So stay tuned.

Question from Marilee Halpin, Instructor, Northern Illinois University:

One of the things that we often overlook when a new teacher enters the field is the need for intensive mentoring from not just the most vocal staff member but the member that is most likely to develop the talents of this teacher. Is there some way to develop guidelines that focus on both the feedback from the institutional supervisor, cooperating teacher, and the about to be mentor?

Lynn Olson:

Good points. We’ve tried to begin addressing this in a few ways. We ask whether states require all new teachers to participate in state-financed mentoring programs. But, for the first time, we also ask whether the state has standards for the selection of mentors, whether it has standards for the training of mentors, and whether it has criteria for matching mentors with new teachers by grade/subject. We also ask whether all new teachers are required to participate in state-funded induction programs, which go beyond matching a new teacher with a single individual. We found that while 25 states have mentoring programs for new teachers, only 76% have criteria for selecting mentors, only 56% have criteria for training mentors, and only 40% have criteria for matching mentors with new teachers.

Question from Bob Zager, Parent:

The articles in this issue seem to contradict one another. One article discusses the value of teacher autonomy in the classroom (Working Conditions Trump Pay) while another article implies more external control over the classroom (Data Yield Clues to Effectiveness).

Lynn Olson:

I don’t think they’re necessarily contradictory. When teachers are asked about working conditions in surveys, part of what they want are chances to collaborate with colleagues and to engage in collegial decisionmaking, not to be a long ranger in the classroom. And data that links teachers with their students’ performance and coursetaking patterns can provide useful information for teachers and schools--it doesn’t have to be used for “external control,” as you put it. It could, for example, help teachers in schools determine what kind of professional development would help advance student learning goals.

Question from Luann Lee, NBCT, Science Department Chair and Instructor, Orting High School:

Why does this report not include number of National Board Certified Teachers other than tracking by school poverty level?

Christopher Swanson:

Past editions of Quality Counts have reported the number of National Board-certified teachers by state. We decided not do so this year (although, I believe the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards does maintain that information). In developing our new framework on the teaching profession, we felt that the number of NBPTS-certified teachers in and of itself was perhaps not the most relevant factor to consider. Instead, we wanted to ask whether and how states take those expert teachers into account when crafting policy strategies to strengthen the teaching profession more broadly. So, we looked at such as issues as whether states: offer incentives to teachers who become Board-certified; know the kinds of schools Board-certified teachers are assigned to; and take efforts to encourage Board-certified teachers to accept assignments in targeted schools. We feel that this helps move the debate into a new and, hopefully productive, area of how states can better tap into teaching expertise to better serve all students.

Question from Teresa Lepeley, President, Global Institute for Quality Education:

Yes, Quality Teachers are crucial to maximize student’s learning. But Quality Teachers can only “bloom” (are attracted, are highly productive and are highly satisfied to stay for long) in “quality environmens”. So, it is impetative first to “build quality schools”. What is the method or model the “Quality Counts” project uses to secure a “quality environment” in schools?

Lynn Olson:

You make an extremely important point. Working conditions and the presence of environments conducive to teaching and learning are absolutely central to quality teaching. It’s hard to get at that from a state policy framework, but that’s why we added indicators this year in the “building capacity” section that look at whether states survey teachers about their working conditions and report the findings by school, whether they monitor the condition of school facilities, and whether they have incentives to get principals into hard-to-staff schools.

Question from Kristi Kraemer:

Here in California, teachers have 1 year of graduate studies, followed by a 2 year induction prior to receiving a credential. Our governor has just proposed cutting school budgets. This means that salaries for this amount of education lag far behind salaries for other areas of endeavor. What suggestions do you have for attracting and retaining “the best and brightest” in this situation? There are so many other -- and more remunerative -- opportunities.

Lynn Olson:

Good point. The pay-parity analysis that the EPE Research Center did for this year’s report found that while teachers’ salaries lag behind those for 16 comparable professions nationally, there’s an even larger gap between the average teacher’s salary and other workers with a B.A. (about $45,000 vs. $54,000). Offering higher salaries, particularly to teachers with lots of other options in the labor market, such as math and science instructors, is one option; so are other incentives that would provide a big bump in pay to teachers who are particularly effective in the classroom. One thing we found is that teachers salaries are also much more compressed compared to other occupations; in other words, teachers are more likely to earn around the mean salary for teachers but unlikely to earn above-average wages, no matter how good they are.

Question from Jim Mordecai, Oakland California teacher:

Quality Counts supports negative sanctions for poor test scores. Why? Hasn’t NCLB proved it a poor management tool?

Christopher Swanson:

First, I should say that Quality Counts is not a referendum on NCLB. In fact, the report debuted years before the federal law came into effect. And, personally, I would say that the jury is still out on the effectiveness of sanctions based on test scores as either a policy or management tool for improving school performance. That said, in this particular area, Quality Counts look at state policies that go above and beyond what NCLB requires. For example we look at whether states applying sanctions – or reward – to all schools and not just the Title I schools that are the primary focus of NCLB. States have been doing so on their own initiative for quite some time. So, it is a well-established state strategy. But I think your question also points to another aspect of public debates over school accountability. That is, there is a perception (one grounded in reality) that sanctions tied to NCLB as well as state accountability system tend to focus on the punitive (i.e., punishments) rather than the productive (i.e., constructive assistance to struggling schools). As we look forward to the reauthorization of NCLB (whenever exactly that comes about), it will be interesting to see whether the national dialogue is able to strike a new tone when it comes to school accountability – one that is, if you will, more productive and less punitive.

Question from Amy Christiansen, Teacher Programs Coordinator, Shedd Aquarium:

What role do you think museums should play in helping to increase quality teaching?

Lynn Olson:

That’s an interesting question. We shouldn’t equate education with “schooling,” since kids spend the bulk of their time outside the classroom and get “educated” in lots of venues. Museums can provide teachers with a better understanding of key concepts in science and other fields, and how those concepts are applied in the real world; with exciting ways to engage students in learning; and with really enriching, deep experiences for both teachers and students. I know that some of the small schools in New York partner extremely closely with museums.

Question from Karen Schafer, Director, Towson University:

All teacher preparation institutions in MD have interns in Professional Development Schools. These PDSs have spcific Standards that promote student achievement as the #1 goal. I’d like to think the high scores MD received in QC and employer surveys of teacher quality,and also the improving teacher retention rate could be attributed to partnerships in PDSs. How do you think we could influence national legislators to recognize these types of efforts with supplementary funds for IHEs?

Lynn Olson:

Data showing that interns who have spent time in professional development schools are more effective in the classroom with students than other teachers with similar years of experience--based on a range of measures, including classroom evaluations and gains in students’ test scores--as well as data showing whether these teachers remain in teaching at a higher rate would be helpful.

Question from Kelley Ridings, Principal, Truth or Consequences Municipal Schools:

It seems that very few states have formal standards to improve the quality of administrative leadership, yet there has been a big push to improve the quality of teacher preparation and qualifications. Why do you think there is such a disparity between the two?

Christopher Swanson:

School leadership is an area that we have really included in Quality Counts for the first time with this year’s report. Teachers time and time again cite a dedicated, effective principal as one of the leading factors needed to support their work. So we didn’t feel that we could create a new, 21st century view of strategies for supporting the teaching profession without including teachers. In general, we typically see that states implement similar policies (in some areas, at least) for both teachers and administrators, although the latter often lag behind the former. For example, half of states require new teachers to participate in an induction or mentoring program. But that’s true for new principals in only 14 states. We can probably expect to see standards and policies related to principals to converge more with those for teachers, as time goes on. But from the perspective of Quality Counts, the key question is really how administrator standards can help to put a high-quality principal in every school.

Question from Brad Brown, Upward Bound Program, CSU Chico:

Comment on the “Success Gap” between minorities.

Lynn Olson:

I guess I’d start with the “opportunity gap.” We know, from research, that low-income and minority students are more likely to be taught by teachers who are inexperienced or lack majors in the subject they teach. We know that families with low incomes, particularly the near-poor (many of them members of minority groups) have the least access to high-quality early-childhood education that can provide the building blocks for success during the schooling years. You could go on and on. So we shouldn’t be surprised when we see persistent achievement gaps across states. We also know from the data that it’s possible to narrow those gaps, although no state has yet closed them.

Question from Jeff, DC Resident:

Evaluation without Qualification!! The disclaimers in the QC report were not sufficient to prevent the Post Express from printing the headline “DC Public Schools Ranked Last in US” (Jan. 9, 2008). I’m tempted to call this headline misleading, but then that’s exactly what QC implied, right before saying that you can’t really compare DC to the 50 states. DC should be removed from this analysis -- it’s comparing apples to an orange and it undercuts the integrity of the rest of the study. Have you considered doing a great city schools analysis instead?

Christopher Swanson:

I think your concerns may lie more with the Post Express than with Quality Counts. But I’ll take a crack here. Quality Counts is a long, complicated report that contains literally thousands and thousands of data points. The report grades in 6 different categories, which span more than 150 indicators for each state. We always do our best to explain our approach and analysis, to qualify findings where merited, and to give readers (including the press) guidance for interpreting what is, honestly, a mountain of information. Having said that, independent media outlets in different states or cities will focus on various aspects of the report. That is not something that we do (or should) have any direct hand in. The case of DC is tricky. On the one hand it is a jurisdiction that is often treated and behaves like a state (for example it can implement policy in a similar way). On the other hand, it is a single urban center without suburban or rural populations. And in that regard it differs from the states. When we look at the results for DC, we find (as most would expect) low levels of performance relative to national benchmarks and compared to other states. We might chalk that up to the fact that DC probably looks more like other large cities. (However, it’s worth mentioning that DC is NOT the bottom-ranked state in either of our performance-focused categories.) But DC does not fare well in the policy-related categories either. And that’s results that can’t really be attributed to the fact that DC is a single large city.

Question from Michael Bertram, President, Denville NJ Board of Education:

We have new graduates apply for teaching jobs that they are unprepared for. How do we get colleges to better prepare future teachers, especially in the area of reading?

Lynn Olson:

Districts often complain that teacher-preparation programs are not preparing future teachers adequately, particularly to work in urban districts. States can accredit districts to prepare future teachers themselves. That gives districts leverage, even if they still choose to partner with some higher education institutions to provide that training. You also have the power to refuse to hire teachers from programs that you don’t feel are doing an adequate job and to partner more closely with them in their work, particularly if the state requires its teacher-preparation programs to demonstrate closer, more co-equal partnerships with districts in order to get program approval.

Question from Jarrett Chapin, Student intern, Hall Institute of Public Policy:

Should geographic differences be weighed differently in the report or are they? California’s poverty reading gap increases quite a bit this year but I don’t think its reflective of failing policy but perhaps due to immigration of foreign language speakers in that state. What if California’s policy works for immigrants but the frequency of immigration is impossible to keep up with, thus Cali’s gap score widens.

Christopher Swanson:

We are often asked why Quality Counts does not make adjustments for, or otherwise take into account, population differences among the states that might contributed to differences in their levels of performance (or other outcomes). Rates of immigration, as you mention in the case of California, as one example. But the same question could be asked for differences in poverty levels, size, racial composition, and so on. Quality Counts does not make such adjustments, in part, because the report tries to put itself in the shoes of state policymakers and education leaders. Those individuals are responsible for crafting and implementing effective education policy, given the population of students they serve. Do some states seem to have a “leg up” when it comes to factors like these? Sure. Is it fair? Maybe not, in some sense. But I would note that states themselves rarely contact us with concerns about our lack of adjustments for population differences. State leaders are very much aware that they may be operating on an uneven playing field. However, they generally find that the objective perspective Quality Counts provides a useful tool for placing their own policy efforts and performance within a broader context.

Question from Margaret Sorensen, PhD Candidate, Walden University:

There has been much discussion about whether any meaningful change has been brought about by HQT requirements--an most of the research on teacher effect relies on various proxies such as years of service. Have you identified any key quality indicators that can fairly reliably give a picture of such things as the distribution of well-qualified teachers among high and low poverty schools?

Lynn Olson:

I wish I had a good answer for you in terms of better indicators. But even the imperfect measures we have suggest that well-qualified teachers continue to be inequitably distributed across high- and low-poverty schools, despite the HQT requirements. Studies in the past year have found that poor and minority students are still more likely to be taught by teachers who are inexperienced, score lower on teacher-licensing tests, or lack a degree in the subject they teach. But there are a few signs of hope. For example, a study by Susanna Loeb and her colleagues in NYC suggests the combination of state requirements to eliminate emergency credentials and new routes into teaching in NYC have resulted in academically more able teachers working in high-poverty schools. But big questions remain about how to best measure teacher “quality” or “effectiveness” and then how to get those teachers where they’re needed most.

Janelle Callahan (Moderator):

Here’s the link to the report Lynn mentioned: http://www.urban.org/publications/1001103.html

Question from shri krishan, Math teacher, Ethan Allen School a juvenile institution in Wisconsin:

If all the research has not made a dent since the report “a nation at risk”, do you think this constant PR effort is going to change anything? From what I have observed as a math teacher for the last 30 plus years, I see no hope for any improvement in american education from the present education leadership, especially from the universities.

Christopher Swanson:

I guess we here at Editorial Projects in Education try to take a more optimistic view of the potential of American education to improve – whether through annual reporting projects like Quality Counts, state and federal policy, or other initiatives. It’s hard to gauge the impact of a particular report like A Nation at Risk or even a long-running series like QC. But feedback we have received over the more-than-a-decade history of the report suggests that there is value to taking a good hard look at the state of the nation’s and states’ education system, year in and year out. It helps keep public attention on critical education issues, it provides a way to track efforts and improvements, and it offers a way to identify promising strategies that may lead to improved student learning. A look at achievement patterns over the past decade, or more, is not all bad news. There have been significant improvement nationally and especially large gains for some states. So it’s important to recognize that. Admittedly, improvement may not have been as large or as fast or as equally-distributed across all student groups as we would like to see. Are these challenges? Absolutely. And I would add, probably some of the most critical challenges facing the nation and society as a whole; their implications do not stop at the schoolhouse door. But, are these challenges insurmountable? Let’s hope not. There is a lot at stake here.

Janelle Callahan (Moderator):

Unfortunately our time is up. Thanks to our readers for all of the great questions. And special thanks to Lynn Olson and Christopher Swanson for sharing their insights. You’ll be able to read a transcript of this chat soon. It will be posted on www.edweek.org.

Janelle Callahan (Moderator):

Please remember to join us for the second Quality Counts chat on Wed. Jan. 16 at 3:00. Margaret Gaston, president of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, and Jason Kamras, special assistant to the chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, will be our guests.

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