Do teachers hit a plateau?
The education reporters at AERA had breakfast yesterday morning with Jane Hannaway of the Urban Institute. She presented us with some research on teaching that I'm guessing will touch a nerve with some of you... She cited data showing that teachers get more effective, as measured by their students' test scores, for their first three to four years on the job, but then experience doesn't matter after that. So, she asked, why keep giving teachers annual raises when schools aren't getting a bigger return on productivity? She also said that a teacher's level of certification does not impact student test scores. Having a masters degree doesn't help, either, unless it's in a specific subject, namely math or science.
While it was hard for Hannaway to say what does make some teachers more effective than others, if not experience or advanced certification and degrees, she had data on the range of teacher effectiveness. The top 15 percent of teachers see their students make, on average, a year and a half worth of progress annually on standardized tests. The bottom 15 percent see an average annual growth of a half a year.
Hannaway was part of Urban's study on Teach for America that found TFA's secondary school teachers in North Carolina were more effective than their colleagues. There are policy implications to that, she said. Maybe it's OK to have a highly selective program that brings in teachers for a few years and gives them intensive support, even if it means that many of the teachers will leave after a few years. I asked about the social and emotional impact on children in the high-poverty areas that TFA serves, who rely on their teachers for more than just teaching. She said she's more concerned about the students moving than the teachers.
At a lecture I went to last night, Deborah Loewenberg Ball of University of Michigan said she's sick of hearing about the teacher plateau, which exists because of inadequate professional development for teachers after their first few years on the job. She made the case that schools of education at research universities should help fill that need.