Quantifying Teacher Effectiveness

Teach for America (TFA) is known for putting recent college graduates in low-income public schools for two-year teaching stints, a mission that has produced a lot of passionate debate. The organization’s founders hope that these young teachers will eventually become education leaders and advocates — and many of them have. TFA has another, less well-known mission. Amanda Ripley reports that over the past 20 years, TFA has tracked the performance of 85 percent to 90 percent of its students and in the process learned a lot about what makes a great teacher. Great teachers share some key characteristics: they set big goals for their students, constantly seek to improve their own effectiveness, actively involve students and their families, stay focused, plan extensively by working backwards from their desired outcome, and work relentlessly. The research comes as Education Secretary Arne Duncan initiates a series of programs aimed at improving teacher quality. As one expert told Ripley: “This is the big bang of teacher-effectiveness reform. It’s huge.” [%comments]


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  1. Caleb says:

    So in other words, the good teachers are the ones who care about their jobs, do the hard work, and also work at improving. At that level, it doesn’t appear too different from many other jobs.

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  2. Dave says:

    TFA is relentless in tracking their teachers abilities. My fiance was in TFA for the last 2 years and it seemed like the organization had metrics for everything that could happen in a classroom.

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  3. BMF says:

    And yet…we still provide zero financial incentive for these great teachers to perform at such a level, or to incent “pretty good” teachers to become “great” teachers.

    Financially, I’d argue there is actually disincentive for teachers to perform at a high level (when their sub-par peers receive equal pay assuming equal tenure). This makes those who do what it takes to be great teachers that much greater in my mind.

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  4. Andrew says:

    I completed a TFA program and never heard from them again once I found a job. I was pleased with the training, but I certainly wouldn’t call TFA relentless.

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  5. Peter says:

    Could the Hawthorne effect come into play here?

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  6. Aredee says:

    Maybe if we could eliminate the teachers who join the profession for the great fringe benefits (you know summers off etc.), we could attract people who actually want to teach for the sake of teaching.

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  7. Mike says:

    My girlfriend looked at Teach for America, and ultimately joined a related program called Oakland Teaching Fellows. 2 years later she came away with the impression that both programs are very bad ideas – as a teacher thrown into the classroom with very little preparation and mentoring she felt that she routinely let her students down because she simply wasn’t shown how to do better, and being overstressed from completing her credential (effectively being a full time student *and* a full time teacher) at the same time only made her less effective.

    Now completing an education degree, she has come to the conclusion that these short cuts for aspiring teachers to make it into the classroom are not worth it for the teacher, and are even detrimental to the mission that they espouse. It’s better to take the extra year to make sure that you are ready for the classroom when it’s your time.

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  8. Jo says:

    I agree with BMF. If you’re putting in 60-70 hour work weeks to make $32,000 a year to start with no way to earn more through effectiveness, how motivated are teachers going to be to perform. Through in tenure in some places and shortages in others and the tables are set for poor teacher performance. Most willing to put that time and effort into their craft have chosen fields with higher financial returns. Simple incentives. And making the issue more problematic is the public conception that teacher’s should be atruistic and want the job for its role in society and pay should be secondary.

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