Friday, February 12, 2010

Teacher Pay, Board Certification, and the Unspoken Impact on High-Poverty Schools

A new Op-Ed in The State calls for retaining the stipend SC pays for National Board Certification. While I concur with the need to pay teachers well, and to recognize excellence in teaching, I find the constant misrepresentation of board certification research trouble, and I find the silence over the negative impact of board certification on high-poverty schools unacceptable.

Originally published as:

Thomas, P. L. (2008, June 30). Teaching credential hasn't been shown to be cost-effective education investment. The Greenville News.

See my original Op-Ed included below:

Headlines and lead paragraphs heralding a new study on the effectiveness of National Board certified teachers appear to vindicate SC’s financial and pedagogical commitment to the process.

“Board-certified teachers boost student scores” headlines this lead from USA Today: “Schools looking to hire teachers should keep an eye out for those with national board certification.”

And “National-Board Teachers Found to Be Effective” draws the readers of Education Week to this: “Teachers who earn advanced certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are more effective than teachers without that credential, but there’s little evidence to show the program has transformed the field in the broader ways its founders envisioned, a long-awaited report released today by a national scientific panel finds.”

Welcomed news for SC where we have committed large yearly stipends and resources to support teachers applying to the board certification process, right?

Not quite. The first problem related to this study is the careless reporting of the conclusions. Read further in both of the stories above and discover that the research, in fact, does not conclude what the headlines and lead paragraphs suggest.

In the forth paragraph of the USA Today piece we discover: “It is not clear from the research whether the process of getting certified by the national board makes teachers better or if those who get certified were already top performers, according to the report. More research is needed to try to determine that, Hakel said.”

Education Week discredits its own claims in the third paragraph: “In the new report, however, a 17-member panel of the National Research Council says it’s still unclear whether the process itself leads to better-quality teaching, because too few studies have examined that issue.”

In SC, we must look carefully at the report because we committed to board certification without any evidence that the investment actually addresses educational needs in SC.

The National Research Council report offers these tentative implications:

• While the report claims higher standardized test scores for students taught by board certified teachers, when compared to non-board certified, it also admits that this study in no way can be viewed as generalizable since the data come from only two states and one city, and draw on just reading and math scores for 3rd and 5th graders.

• Most important is this key statement from the report itself: “There are no studies that collected baseline data about teachers before going through the process, making it impossible to attribute any findings to the process itself.” This study suggests some very narrow correlations about board certification and test scores, but it does not show that board certification causes anything—at all. It is possible that students would have scored higher in the board certified teachers’ classrooms before those teachers became board certified—or for a number of other reasons the study never addresses.

• Also key for us in SC is that the report reveals absolutely no conclusions about the cost effectiveness of board certification. This report does not clarify if the money invested in board certification produces student achievement equal to or greater than the money spent. Now, we are left wondering if the significant financial cost to SC is producing what we need.

• Board certified teachers are more likely to change schools or positions than non-board certified teachers, and those moves tend to be to schools that already include higher student achievement and lower poverty. Board certification contributes to teacher flight from the schools that need high-quality teachers and to schools that are already successful and include students experiencing fewer life challenges.

• Teachers from affluent schools tend to apply for board certification at higher rates than teachers from high-poverty schools.

• While African-American teachers apply at the same rates as whites, African-American teachers are under-represented in those who complete certification.

With our commitment to board certification, SC made a leap of faith when we should have been making evidence-based decisions.

Let’s not make a mistake again by jumping to distorted conclusions, as the media appears to be doing, about this single study from the National Research Council.

Issues of poverty, equity, and funding are plaguing our teaching workforce and our schools. This report does not show board certification as an appropriate solution to those problems. In fact, the report suggests that board certification could be working against our overcoming these difficult obstacles.

Do teachers in SC who pursue professional growth deserve our support? Of course.

The key question we must ask: Is board certification the appropriate mechanism for better compensating teachers and raising student achievement? The answer appears to be we have no clear evidence to say “yes,” but now have some signs that the answer may be “no.”

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Choice and Charters, not all that is claimed (especially for the poor)

How School Choice Can Create Jobs for South Carolina, authored by Sven Larson, has been advocated by the South Carolina Policy Council Education Foundation, claiming that choice in the low country of SC produced jobs for the area.

But, a review for the Think Tank Review Project by Joydeep Roy of Georgetown University and the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., found that the claims are flawed and the report is more advocacy than research.

Further, a new study on the impact of charter schools, "Schools Without Diversity: Education Management Organizations, Charter Schools, and the Demographic Stratification of the American School System," reveals that, "as compared with the public school district in which the charter school resided, the charter schools were substantially more segregated by race, wealth, disabling condition, and language. While charter schools have rapidly grown, the strong segregative pattern found in 2001 is virtually unchanged through 2007."

These findings, I regret, will likely stay below the radar of mainstream media and most people and continue the patterns found by Molnar and Yettick regarding the reporting of credible research v. advocacy reports—advocacy receiving a disproportionate amount of coverage leading to more misinformation about schools (and choice) than credible information.