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Accelerate, Don’t Remediate: New Evidence from Elementary Math Classrooms

May 23, 2021

Research suggests more students have experienced more unfinished learning over the last year than ever before. With the COVID-19 pandemic waning, school systems are facing a critical choice about how to respond. Should they use the traditional approach of reviewing all the content students missed, known as remediation? Or should they start with the current grade's content and provide "just-in-time" supports when necessary, known as learning acceleration?New data from Zearn, a nonprofit organization whose online math platform is used by one in four elementary students nationwide, provides one of the first direct comparisons of these two approaches—and compelling new evidence that school systems should make learning acceleration the foundation of their academic strategies next year and beyond.

The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development

July 22, 2015

Two years ago, we embarked on an ambitious effort to identify what works in fostering widespread teacher improvement. Our research spanned three large public school districts and one midsize charter school network. We surveyed more than 10,000 teachers and 500 school leaders and interviewed more than 100 staff members involved in teacher development.Rather than test specific strategies to see if they produced results, we used multiple measures of performance to identify teachers who improved substantially, then looked for any experiences or attributes they had in common -- from the kind and amount of development activities in which they participated to the qualities of their schools and their mindset about growth -- that might distinguish them from teachers who did not improve. We used a broad definition of "professional development" to include efforts carried out by districts, schools and teachers themselves.In the three districts we studied, which we believe are representative of large public school systems nationwide, we expected to find concentrations of schools where teachers were improving at every stage of their careers, or evidence that particular supports were especially helpful in boosting teachers' growth. After an exhaustive search, we were disappointed not to find what we hoped we would. Instead, what we found challenged our assumptions.

Greenhouse Schools in Boston: School Leadership Practices Across a High-Performing Charter Sector

February 24, 2015

Boston's public charter school sector has received national attention for its strong student outcomes. Independent studies have found that Boston charter school students, on the whole, are learning at much faster rates than their peers in charter schools across the country, as well as in local district schools -- even while Boston Public Schools remains one of the highest performing urban districts in the country. What's happening in Boston's charter schools to make them so effective? Part of the answer may lie in a set of specific school leadership practices that cultivate environments that promote quality instruction. The environments where they work, and particularly the school leaders who nurture and shape those environments, play an important role in setting teachers up to do their best work in the classroom. We've been investigating the importance of school environment and leadership practices for several years, using a survey tool called Instructional Culture Insight, which measures teachers' perceptions of their school environments. In "Greenhouse Schools: How Schools Can Build Cultures Where Teachers and Students Thrive (2012)", we found that school culture matters for the retention of high-performing teachers and for student achievement overall, and we identified a handful of elements that seem to be consistent across schools with particularly positive environments -- places we refer to as "greenhouse schools."

Shortchanged: The Hidden Costs of Lockstep Teacher Pay

July 15, 2014

"Teachers aren't in it for the money." It's one of our society's favorite refrains, and one that shuts down most attempts to talk about teacher salaries. But at a time when education is a more critical gateway to success than ever before, we need to continue the conversation. Even though nobody goes into teaching to get rich, compensation is one of the most important factors determining who enters the profession and how long they stay.In other words, money matters—a lot. And the hard truth is that the way we pay teachers in this country is shortchanging our very best teachers and holding back our schools, our students and the teaching profession. Nearly 90 percent of all school districts in America use a lockstep approach to teacher pay that completely ignores job performance. Under this system, teachers typically earn raises for two reasons only: notching an additional year of experience, or earning an advanced degree. They can't earn more for being exceptionally successful at helping students learn—and, in fact, top teachers routinely earn less than teachers who perform less effectively in the classroom. Most people would find it insane that any profession would determine pay without regard for job performance, let alone a field as important as teaching. But defying common sense is just the beginning of the story. Lockstep teacher pay makes it harder for schools to fulfill what everyone agrees is their most important responsibility: giving students the best education possible.

Keeping Irreplaceables in D.C. Public Schools

November 1, 2012

This paper explains how District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) has moved toward smarter teacher retention, mainly by raising expectations and removing consistently low-performing teachers. The report also shows that DPCS is missing some opportunities to make even more progress.Other key findings include: 1) performance-based compensation is helping DCPS keep more top teachers; 2) many DCPS principals do not appear to be prioritizing top teacher retention; 3) many DCPS principals are struggling to create cultures and working conditions that motivate top teachers to stay; 4) irreplaceables appear less likely to teach in schools that need them most.The report recommends that DCPS continue its current policy reforms -- especially its higher expectations for teachers -- while monitoring the distribution of top teachers across the district and doing more to help school leaders retain their best teachers.

The Irreplaceables: Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America's Urban Schools

July 25, 2012

"Irreplaceables" are teachers who are so successful they are nearly impossible to replace, but who too often vanish from schools as the result of neglect and inattention.To identify and better understand the experience of these teachers, we started by studying 90,000 teachers across four large, geographically diverse urban school districts. We also examined student academic growth data or value-added results for approximately 20,000 of those teachers. While these measures cannot provide a complete picture of a teacher's performance or ability on their own -- and shouldn't be the only measure used in realworld teacher evaluations -- they are the most practical way to identify trends in a study of this scale, and research has demonstrated that they show a relationship to other performance measures, such as classroom observations.We used the data to identify teachers who performed exceptionally well (by helping students make much more academic progress than expected), and to see how their experiences and opinions about their work differed from other teachers' -- particularly teachers whose performance was exceptionally poor.So who are the Irreplaceables? They are, by any measure, our very best teachers. Across the districts we studied, about 20 percent of teachers fell into the category. On average, each year they help students learn two to three additional months' worth of math and reading compared with the average teacher, and five to six months more compared to low-performing teachers.Better test scores are just the beginning: Students whose teachers help them make these kinds of gains are more likely to go to college and earn higher salaries as adults, and they are less likely to become teenage parents.Teachers of this caliber not only get outstanding academic results, but also provide a more engaging learning experience for students. For example, when placed in the classroom of an Irreplaceable secondary math teacher, students are much more likely to say that their teacher cares, does not let them give up when things get difficult and makes learning enjoyable.Irreplaceables influence students for life, and their talents make them invaluable assets to their schools. The problem is, their schools don't seem to know it.

Unintended Consequences: The Case for Reforming the Staffing Rules in Urban Teachers Union Contracts

April 6, 2005

Nearly everyone involved in the enterprise of schooling understands the profound importance of building and sustaining a high-quality team of teachers. Moreover, the research is clear: the single most important school-based determinant of student achievement is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. Yet, urban schools must often staff their classrooms with little or no attention to quality or fit because of the staffing rules in their teachers union contracts.This report focuses on the contractual staffing rules governing "voluntary transfers" and "excessed teachers." Voluntary transfers are incumbent teachers who want to move between schools in a district, while excessed teachers are those cut from a specific school, often in response to declines in budget or student enrollment.To better understand the impact of the voluntary transfer and excess rules on urban schools, The New Teacher Project studied five representative urban districts (we identify them as the Eastern, Mid-Atlantic, Midwestern, Southern, and Western districts). Within each district, we extensively analyzed data for internal teacher movements and new teacher hires. We complemented our data analyses with principal surveys in the Eastern and Western districts, and interviews of school and central staff in all districts. Our findings demonstrate the extent to which these rules undermine the ability of urban schools to hire and keep the best possible teachers for the job.In focusing our report on the adverse effects of the current transfer and excess rules, we are not minimizing the unfair practices that led to their adoption or the other staffing barriers urban schools face, in such areas as school leadership, human resources, and budgeting. We will argue, however, that without significant change to these staffing rules, another generation of urban students will bear the cost of well-intentioned, but ultimately inadequate, school improvement efforts.

Missed Opportunities: How We Keep High-Quality Teachers Out of Urban Classrooms

November 7, 2003

It is widely recognized that no factor under school control affects student achievement more than the quality of the teacher in the classroom. Yet, on average, low-income and minority children have lower-quality teachers who are far more likely to be uncertified, to have scored poorly on college and licensure exams, and to be teaching outside of their field.Conventional wisdom attributes this disparity to the inability of large city school systems to attract high-caliber teachers. But the reality is that, thanks to stepped-up recruitment efforts, high-quality teacher candidates regularly apply in large numbers to teach in hard-to-staff districts. The problem is, they do not get hired.The failure of many large urban districts to make job offers to new teachers until July or August is largely to blame for this problem. Because of hiring delays, these districts lose substantial numbers of teacher candidates—including the most promising and those who can teach in high-demand shortage areas—to suburban classrooms that typically hire earlier.As a result, urban districts lose the very candidates they need in their classrooms to meet the No Child Left Behind mandates, and millions of disadvantaged students in America's cities pay the price with lower-quality teachers than their suburban peers.To date, the evidence on the consequences of late hiring timelines has been largely anecdotal. In this report, The New Teacher Project provides an in-depth study of urban district hiring practices and their effect on applicant attrition and teacher quality by analyzing data from four "hard-to-staff" urban districts. These representative districts, which agreed to let us gather extensive data on the condition of anonomity, comprise three large districts in the Southwest, Midwest, and Eastern regions and a mid-size district in the Midwest. The districts average just fewer than 73,000 students each, and the largest district has more than 150,000 students. The percentage of non-white students in these districts ranges from 62 percent to 85 percent. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.The report relies on a wealth of sources—applicant tracking data, telephone surveys with applicants who left for other districts, written surveys, and focus groups—to quantify the length of hiring delays, the subsequent scale of applicant attrition, and its very real effect on teacher quality in urban schools.