Do you think you could identify a successful teacher when you see one?
A provoking article published by David Evans, Lead Economist in the Chief Economist’s Office for the Africa Region of the World Bank claims: Looking for a shortcut to identifying great teachers? You may be out of luck.
Research: Teacher Performance
Research suggests that teachers in England had mixed views on the desirability of pay reforms with only 34% agreed that it resulted in a fair allocation of pay for staff in the school with most headteachers feeling that the pay reforms had not had an immediate impact on teacher recruitment and retention.
A number of studies have looked at the reliability of observation. Most cited of late, is the Measures of Effective Teaching Project which used various observation protocols to test reliability. Using inspection criteria, if a lesson is judged ‘Outstanding’ by one observer, this research suggests that the probability that a second person would give a different judgement is between 51% and 78%.
Identifying Good Teachers Is Challenging …
Evans writes, “Teachers are important. From Pakistan to Uganda to Ecuador to the United States, study after study shows that a good teacher can make a big difference in student learning. If we want more student learning, then it seems that “hire better teachers” or “make sure you retain the good teachers,” would be good bets. But identifying good teachers is challenging. The studies above measure the learning gains associated with being in a particular teacher’s class, but they don’t identify observable characteristics of good teachers, like “tall teachers are good teachers” or “brunette teachers are good teachers.” While those characteristics seem silly, some areas that seem like no-brainers – such as teacher education and experience – are not consistently correlated with student learning.
Many countries want to do a better job of identifying the best teachers (to retain and reward them) and the worst teachers (to help them and – in some cases – dismiss them). Some countries have begun to test teachers. The World Bank’s Service Delivery Indicators initiative has tested teachers’ pedagogical ability and basic math and reading ability in several countries, to largely dispiriting results. A further Ecuadorian study asks, “Do tests applied to teachers predict their effectiveness?”
The short answer: In Ecuador, no.
Higher Pay And More Benefits
“How do we know?” asks Evans, who cites research from Ecuador and Peru which highlights that “tenured teachers have higher pay and more benefits” with one in three teachers on short-term contracts. Evidence from Peru compares students “taught by the same teacher in two subjects to see whether the students perform better in the subject where the teacher tests better, increases student achievement by about 9%.” A study of teacher performance in Argentina found identifying candidates who would go on to perform particularly poorly, but not so much for identifying future top performers.
Does this mean that teacher tests and evaluating their performance is worthless? Evans thinks ‘no’ and I would strongly disagree. Education is not a business model. If businesses are not happy with their resources, they can send them back to the manufacturers and seek to discover better imports and partners. Teachers and schools do not have this luxury, simply because teachers have to work with the students in front of them.
If business could learn one thing from education, it would be this. Fund schools better so that every teacher can be the best that they can be.
To be fair to Evans does add, “these results … are an important reminder that a teacher test is no magic bullet – and may be completely useless – in identifying great candidate” to be teachers. You can read the full article here.