Here we are at mile 26 of the teacher effectiveness marathon - the previous posts are all archived here.
One of the summer’s highlights was a talk at AEI by Chicago labor economist Derek Neal. (Footnote: AEI talks generally make me want to impale myself on a Powerpoint projector, but this one was exceptional.) For those who weren’t there, you can watch the video here.
Neal found that low-performing kids in Chicago got shafted when the Chicago accountability system went into place, and again after NCLB was implemented. His talk wasn’t about teacher labor markets, but he made a critical point in this area. If the measurement of teacher effectiveness doesn’t take into account that some kids start off further behind that others and I am labeled a bad teacher as a result, why would I teach in a low-performing school? We have a hard enough time staffing these schools to begin with, in part because of salary differentials but also because of working conditions. If these teachers feel disrespected as professionals because the measurement system doesn’t acknowledge that they have a tougher job, I predict that we’re going to have a harder time recruiting and retaining teachers in these schools. This is conjecture, I know – we really have very little evidence about such a system because no one has implemented a comprehensive teacher effectiveness plan yet. (If you know of any studies on this issue, please email them to me.)
The best part, I thought, was towards the end of the discussion, where Doug Mesecar (Asst. Secretary at Ed) and Neal go back and forth in response to Mesecar’s question, “Are you saying our teachers are not professionals?”, i.e. that they're not good enough to get everyone to proficiency no matter how far behind they start. Most folks back down when challenged with the “soft bigotry of low expectations” rhetoric, but Neal was having none of it.
That’s it for teacher effectiveness, folks – I hope that this week has made you think through some of the issues we don’t hear much about in this debate.
Stay tuned – next week I’ll focus on NCLB.