Making the Grade
Nationwide, talented and driven teachers comprise our school systems and introduce a new generation of students to lifelong learning. But school systems are also stymied with ineffective teachers who crowd the system and bolster an environment of low educational standards in many districts.
The New Teacher Project (TNTP) is a national nonprofit organization focused on educational inequalities. TNTP recently researched the teacher retention crisis in America’s urban schools, specifically regarding quality teachers. TNTP’s study focused on four urban districts comprised of 2,100 schools with 90,000 teachers and 1.4 million students. The study’s purpose was to highlight the value of what are called “irreplaceable” teachers on student achievement and the role of school administrators in fostering a progressive educational environment that phases out low-performing teachers and helps its best teachers thrive.
Irreplaceable teachers can greatly impact the quality of education students receive. From impoverished schools to those with a healthy student-to-teacher ratio, and from rural school districts to urban school systems, school characteristics do not lessen an irreplaceable teacher’s impact on student achievement. Using multiple variables, TNTP was able to identify characteristics that play a significant role in making a teacher irreplaceable.
Teachers who had relatively the same experience level, class size and percentage of high-poverty students were studied. The study determined that the difference between high- and low-performing teachers largely lies with their attitudes. Nine percent more of studied irreplaceable teachers, when compared to low-performing teachers, believed effective teachers can lead students to success despite challenges. Over 20 percent more of irreplaceable teachers, when compared to low-performing teachers, understand their impact in achieving positive student outcomes.
Twenty percent of teachers in the TNTP’s studied districts could be classified as irreplaceable. These irreplaceable teachers produce noteworthy results in the classroom and have a lasting influence on students. TNTP’s study shows that these teachers are able to generate five to six more months of learning each year than low-performing teachers. Students are able to identify attitude shifts among irreplaceable educators and low-performing teachers. Student responses to various statements provided by TNTP’s research produced startling data.
- Sixty-five percent of the best teachers’ students believed their teacher cared about them, compared to 51 percent of low-performing teachers’ students.
- Sixty-five percent of high-performing teachers’ students felt their peers treated the teacher with respect, compared to just 41 percent of low-performing teachers’ students.
- Sixty-four percent of high-performing teachers’ students said their teacher made learning enjoyable, compared to 44 percent of low-performing teachers’ students.
Teacher Retention Key for Long-Term Success
It’s estimated that the nation’s 50 largest school districts lose around 10,000 high-performing teachers to other districts or from the profession altogether every year. Schools that experience a revolving door of teachers have a harder time setting educational standards and meeting benchmarks. Also, high-performing teachers are difficult to replace. TNTP data found that an average school trying to replace a high-performing teacher finds only one in six potential replacements who meets the departing teacher’s quality standards and teaching expectations. Only one in 11 candidates matches the irreplaceable teacher’s skill level and mindset.
TNTP found that school retention rates and retention efforts are similar across the board, regardless of teacher quality. The current retention system sees low-performing teachers stay in the profession, causing irreplaceable teachers to grow disgruntled and perhaps leave teaching.
School systems are encouraged to make a better effort to retain irreplaceable teachers. Irreplaceable teachers help bolster student achievement and improve academic standards. Education experts have cited that a teacher evaluation process could be used to reward the best teachers and phase out low-performing teachers. Education secretary Arne Duncan has urged states to adopt a teacher evaluation process to provide stronger job performance measurements. More than half the states have agreed to approve these new processes.
Many educational institutions have begun examining how teachers would react to evaluations being tied to job performance. Scholastic, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, sampled teachers on a variety of educational topics, including teacher evaluations. Eighty-five percent of respondents felt that student growth and development over the year should be considered when measuring year-end performance.
In theory, value-added teacher evaluations are designed to weed out chronic low-performing teachers and retain top talent to continue educational improvement. Making the grade means fostering a dynamic learning environment, engaging students and promoting a passion for lifelong learning and continued success.
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