Senators looking into improving student performance were told this week that recent gains on test scores will mean nothing without improvements in teacher quality.
Dr. Eric Hanushek, a leading education researcher, said "the current level of reforms and policies in Texas...have rather plateaued in terms of the gains you can expect out of student achievement."
"The only way to ensure improvement in schools is to improve teacher quality," said Hanushek, of the UT-Dallas Texas Schools Project, and the Hoover Institution’s blue ribbon Koret Task Force on education.
Hanushek said his research, which consisted of following multiple cohorts of students from the fourth to the eighth grades found teacher quality to be the "most significant factor" influencing achivement gains.
The study, he said, used student test scores. There was evidence of good teachers and bad teachers, he said, but no common measure could easily identify which were which. The best and worst, he said, were easy to identify. Most of the teachers, he said, seemed to fall somewhere in between.
Nonetheless, the presence of good and poor teachers could have an enormous effect, he said.
"What I call a good teacher systematically will be one who year after year gets larger gains in reading or math or whatever subject matter than another teacher who gets lower gains," he said.
"Students are really damaged when they get substandard teachers," Hanushek added. "You can see that in the data, that someone who gets real bad teachers for a couple of years at the beginning, seldom recovers."
The natural conclusion, Hanushek said, was the need for Texas to implement merit pay. This was particularly necessary in some shortage areas.
"Simply increasing the salaries for everybody will not deal with any of those shortages," he said. "If you insist on paying the good teachers and bad teachers the same amount, the problem is, you will keep the same number of bad teachers as you keep good teachers."
Hanushek said one problem with implementing merit pay is that the issue is "usually talked about fairness to the teachers and the adults" when the real focus should be on the children.
But some senators were skeptical about how accurate such data on teacher quality could ever be. Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) pointed out that some students were mobile, and that it would be hard to measure their progress, and therefore the work of the teachers who teach them. Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) noted that even if some good teachers could be identified for incentive pay, districts in Texas are very diverse and taking a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t work.
Hanushek said his data took into account those issues.
"If that free and reduced lunch child has a good teacher three or four years in a row, then they can make up for the average difference between disadvantaged and not disadvantaged students," he said. "Providing a high quality teacher consistently to a disadvantaged student can make up for these background differences that we see in the data."
Sen. Kim Brimer (R-Arlington) said that he works in an industry that is merit-based, and that although he appreciates the need for merit-based pay in schools, the state should first perfect the ability to identify good teachers, so that Texas could have confidence that an incentive program could work.
Hanushek said that the key to getting that confidence is to use multiple factors to determine teacher quality, not just standardized tests. Evaluations of teachers from other teachers and principals can also help.
Hanushek said that the key to an effective incentive program works only if the pay for incentives is substantial.
"A few hundred dollars, which in effect often goes to teachers who do extra work, not for quality, won’t get you there," he said. "You have to think of much larger amounts."
Hanushek also agreed, following Whitmire’s questioning, that a top-down approach from Austin probably would not work. But he said an incentive program, in which the money comes from the state but the criteria are developed locally, would make sense.
The committee heard a number of other speakers addressing the issue.
Cynthia Lewis, a teacher at Whittier Elementary in Amarillo, who is also the Texas Elementary School Teacher of the Year, was in favor of incentive pay.
"I highly resent, when I see a teacher who is teaching in the same pay range that I am in and is a very inferior teacher, and is making the same amount of money," she said. "It’s very discouraging.
"In fact, that same teacher can continue to do a mediocre, if not inferior job and continue to make the same amount of money that I am making with all the efforts I am putting into my classroom," she said.
Dr. Abe Saavedra, the Houston Independent School District superintendent, outlined that district’s teacher incentive plan, which as Hanushek recommended, includes substantial additional pay – as much as $3,000 currently, with the possibility of increasing to $10,000 in the next five years. Whereas previous programs in HISD had been based on each school’s accountability rating, the new program is different.
"A school can be exemplary," he said, "and there’s no money tied to [that] fact...It’s based strictly on the academic growth of students. There is also a factor included for teachers who work in districts with more disadvantaged students and the campus achievement. The program is also designed to include teachers who usually fall through the cracks in performance pay – specifically, teachers of electives.
"The goal would be to keep good teachers, and as teachers retire, to recruit more of the better teachers, high performing teachers. I really feel that if we can get to that $10,000 range in five years, that high-performing teachers are going to seek out Houston, and that’s going to continue to put better teachers in the classroom."
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The Fort Worth Star Telegram reports today that the beloved Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth's Cultural District is about to get a sister. Sixteen years ago an effort to enlarge the legendary museum died from opposition by architect Louis Kahn's family. But now the family is on board with the idea of a second building across the street.
Barron's magazine reports in its new issue that Hillary Clinton raised $21.4 million in campaign donations in 2005. This amounts to "$411,538.46 a week." in contributions to her Senate campaign. Mrs. Clinton is up for re-election in 2006, but she faces only token Republican opposition in New York. Under the current finance laws, she is able to transfer any unused Senate contributions into a Presidential campaign account if she decides (as expected) to run for President in 2008.
The Barron's article quotes the Center for Responsive Politics as saying that Mrs. Clinton has raised a total of $33.2 million since 2001. That is more than twice as much money raised by Hillary Clinton than by any other U.S. Senator during that time period. She definitely will have the financial resources to mount a major Presidential campaign in 2008 if she so chooses.
The Daily Telegraph, a respected British newspaper, is reporting today that U.S. and British troops are expected to be out of Iraq within a year. According to the story, the "planned pull-out from Iraq" will begin slowly and culminate in the early part of 2007. The plan is to turn over the day-to-day responsibilities for security to the Iraqi Defense Force which now numbers "more than 232,000 police officers and soldiers." The newspaper reports that both the U.S. and British governments realize that: "Our presence (in Iraq) is now part of the problem."
The U.S. military spokesman in Iraq denied the reports and reiterated that "there is no timetable for withdrawal."
Nielson/Net Ratings, the Internet data arm of the A.C. Nielson Company said that there were 5.6 billion net searches conducted in January 2006. That is up more than 1.5 billion searches over January 2005. Google accounted for 48% of the searches, Yahoo 22% and MSN 11%.