English teacher John Keating, played by Robin Williams, inspired his tony prep school students in the classic film, Dead Poet’s Society. But I always wondered: Could Mr. Keating hack it in a lower-performing, higher-poverty school?
A recent working paper indicates that, yes, highly effective teachers continue to be highly effective when they switch schools, regardless of the new school’s academic performance or poverty level. Using value-added data from tens of thousands of elementary and secondary school teachers in North Carolina and Florida, researchers found either no change or a slight increase in a teacher’s measured effectiveness after changing schools.
In fact, elementary school teachers in North Carolina actually increased their value-added score after moving to a lower-performing or higher-poverty school. This research should muffle critics of high-stakes evaluation systems who argue that teachers in low-performing schools cannot reach the same student achievement gains as other teachers and are punished when student achievement is incorporated into a teacher’s evaluation.
In addition, with the long-awaited reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act coming soon (we hope…), policymakers will look closely at the existing provision in No Child Left Behind that requires states to take steps to ensure that low-income and minority students are not taught by unqualified teachers. The most important change policymakers should make in the reauthorized bill is shifting the language from “highly qualified” to “highly effective.” But the second is moving from identifying the problem to addressing it.
Several efforts are currently underway to explore how to ensure an equitable distribution of highly effective teachers. The Gates Foundation invested $290 million in Intensive Partnership for Effective Teaching grants for three districts and a coalition of charter management organizations in Los Angeles. The goal of the grants is to drive the development of teacher effectiveness policies including incentives for the most effective teachers to work in the highest-need schools. And the U.S. Department of Education is implementing the Talent Transfer Initiative to identify high-performing teachers and offer them $5,000 to remain in a low-performing school or $10,000 to transfer into one. Initial analysis of the program shows that a transfer incentive program can be successful at filling vacancies in low-performing schools. And now we know that highly effective teachers will stay that way.
Photo Credit: PRN Leadership