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Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality

Teacher quality is now widely recognized as one of the most important factors in whether students succeed. As a result, policymakers have shifted their focus from teacher training and certification to student performance data as the best gauge of teacher effectiveness. Recently, Colorado passed a bill to modify teacher tenure and evaluation, joining other states — including New York and Louisiana — that have already passed or introduced legislation to bring about change.

The Hechinger Report recently spoke with Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a nonprofit advocacy research organization dedicated to increasing the number of effective teachers. A recent NCTQ report set forth ten goals for hiring, developing and compensating an effective teaching corps. The NCTQ analysis compared the laws and policies in Baltimore and the state of Maryland with those of 100 large school districts and 49 states in NCTQ’s 101-district TR3 database. The TR3 database – on teacher rules, roles and rights – contains information on collective bargaining agreements and school board policies across the nation.

EVALUATING TEACHER EFFECTIVENESS

The Hechinger Report: There’s been a shift from teacher training and certification toward making teachers accountable for student progress. Is this the only criterion for measuring a teacher’s effectiveness?

Walsh: No. No. By no means, and I think that would be a huge mistake. It’s too easy to say “we are only going to look at outputs [test scores].” Inputs matter. Teachers have a legitimate gripe when it comes to looking only at test scores. You need a combination of  both.

The Hechinger Report: What would an accurate teacher evaluation formula look like?

Walsh: The formulas that states are settling upon make sense. Standardized test scores count for something in the neighborhood of 30-40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. You don’t know how that’s going to play out. You want to make sure a teacher isn’t going to live and die on the basis of scores. You are going to look at a three-year snapshot. Secondly, states are going to have to resolve this issue that most teachers are not in tested subjects.

The Hechinger Report: Give me a snapshot of the report’s findings and any reactions you may have encountered since its release.

Walsh: Teachers should be held accountable for their effectiveness in the classroom and, rhetorically, we sound great. Teachers hear what we say and are convinced that a dirty deed is going to be done to them. That’s based on some past experience, remembering all too well what it’s like to be at the district level, working with teachers for so many years.

I can’t be as reassuring as I’d like to be that this won’t get screwed up, so I’m really struggling because I’m not about to back down from this organization’s perspective and I know the perspective of everyone else that sits in these national policy chairs. I’m not going to back off this because it is the right way. I really am concerned that the teachers’ skepticism will be justified. I know that states have very poor capacity for doing this right. It’s not something they’ve thought a lot about.

The Hechinger Report: So, to develop teacher effectiveness, where is the expertise going to come from?

Walsh: Well, the one thing that makes me feel better is that the Gates Foundation is investing gazillions of dollars in multiple measures that can be used. They are supposed to roll this out next fall. When that comes out, there’s no reason for states to be spinning their wheels because what Gates will have done will be incredible.

The Hechinger Report: What about teacher input?

Walsh: I think that the national folks do not have a proper appreciation for how deeply skeptical teachers are of this working.  There’s a disconnect. You talk to good teachers, they just know they are going to get screwed. “No, you’re not. No, you’re not.” I’m like, “Yes, you might.”

The Hechinger Report: Is that the little voice in your head?

Walsh: Well, yes. There’s no question we’ve gone to this process of mediocre tests and teachers feeling like they are not treated respectfully. … We are going to get there. The standards themselves are so much better. This is part of how change happens.

DEVELOPMENT

The Hechinger Report: What constitutes a “good teacher”?

Walsh: There are some necessary but not sufficient qualities. A really good teacher has got to be skilled at handling a classroom and knowing effective strategies for delivering instruction. A great teacher makes kids soar. But a good teacher has a grasp of the knowledge at hand that he or she needs to deliver it well – so that children respond. It’s sort of basic.

The Hechinger Report: How can we get the best teachers in the classroom?

Walsh: I visited a school in Arizona funded by the Rodel Foundation. Principals pick a group of teachers who have very high student achievement results in poor schools … They invite those teachers to be a cooperating teacher … to mentor student-teachers for six semesters. Student-teachers apply, they get interviewed, they don’t take the best students in an ed school or the very bottom either.

The Hechinger Report: Sounds good, but isn’t that what student-teaching is anyway?

Walsh: Everyone is pushing the urban teacher residency model. Great, they are only $50,000 a teacher. In Arizona, it costs $6,000. It’s also high-status to be picked. They avoid picking from the very bottom and not just the top. But they are picking the top cooperating teachers. And they have to be willing to turn the classroom over. Some great teachers are not willing to do that.

The experience that these [Arizona] students have with masterful teachers is amazing.

This is the way every student teacher program in this country should run.

COMPENSATION

The Hechinger Report: One of the report’s recommendations is to change the structure of raises and earnings potential. When and how would you implement this?

Walsh: The salary schedule would be fairly flat until tenure at year four or five. Giving them [teachers] their highest pay increase ever says, “We are now going to pay for you. You are someone we want to keep.” One compensation scheme, if you are extremely effective, suggests districts ought to have something like chaired positions. Sort of a cheaper version than what’s in [Washington] D.C. It should be an exceptional award and go to teachers that are exceptional.

Research shows that teacher effectiveness flattens out by years three, four or five.

The Hechinger Report: Are you aware of any models that reward exceptional teachers today?

Walsh: Not a one.

The Hechinger Report: What about TAP [the Teacher Advancement Program]?

Walsh: (Updated June 25, 2010) Efforts like TAP laid the groundwork for rethinking how teachers should be compensated.  What we need to move to now is a system of higher salaries, not just bonuses, that reward consistently effective teachers.

CHANGE

The Hechinger Report: How do we remove the teachers who aren’t doing a good job?

Walsh: It shouldn’t take two years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars if a teacher chooses to fight. We are completing ignoring the needs of children.

The Hechinger Report: When will we see change?

Walsh: We are going to see a lot of change when the states implement Race to the Top and a big change will come from the Gates Foundation’s “deep-dive districts.” Certainly the tenor has changed. Unions feel like their back’s up against the wall and it is.

The Hechinger Report: What will the change be?

Walsh: There will be much more differentiation about teacher talent, so that will mean more teachers will be dismissed. Also, a lot more teachers will be honored for being great. That’s going to open a new conversation when we stop pretending that a teacher is a teacher is a teacher.

The Hechinger Report: Where will there not be as many changes?

Walsh: In teacher prep. I think the profession will start to attract, though not immediately, more talent when there is better differentiation of talent.

Download the complete NCTQ report here.

The NCTQ report was commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland and funded with grants from the Abell Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (Note: The Hechinger Institute’s work is also supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others.)

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Susan Sawyers

Susan Sawyers is a New York City based multimedia journalist and social media strategist. She is interested in education, philanthropy and lifestyle reporting. A former producer and researcher for “Bloomberg...

Letters to the Editor

3 Letters

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  1. “I think the profession will start to attract, though not immediately, more talent when there is better differentiation of talent.”

    IF there is better differentiation of talent. As Ms. Walsh notes, there is a strong possibility that states will bungle it. In which case, teaching will become even less attractive.

    The failure of those at the national level to appreciate the depth of teachers’ angst at the “reforms” they are proposing starkly demonstrates how out of touch they are with ground-level realities. If they want to know what is fundamentally wrong with the system, they should look in the mirror. They are merely the latest of the reforming legions who have foisted their grand ideas into classrooms from on high. What hubris to think they are so different from those who have trampled this ground before? It’s nice Ms. Walsh thinks Gates will give us a technical fix. Many are far less sanguine.

  2. I’m sure we can all be reassured that teacher evaluation will be “incredible” as soon as the Gates Foundation comes out with their formula, since they are ” investing gazillions of dollars” in it.

    Incredible is right. Who would dare criticize it? Esp. as there are few in the policy world who are not on their bounteous payroll.

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