On problems with education research, state education rankings and teacher preparation
Do you really think Kentucky improved 20 places in state rankings for education recently? Well, you better think again.
On January 12, 2012 Education Week released its annual report on education across the United States, known as Quality Counts (subscription).
Kentucky’s education boosters wasted little time jumping on the new state rankings in the report, which showed that Kentucky moved up 20 places in the Quality Counts state rankings in just one year (Really???).
Such a huge jump in ranking in just one year is VERY hard to believe.
It just got even harder to believe because another education research group issued a report that seriously disagrees with the Quality Counts rankings in “The Teaching Profession” area.
According to the Quality Counts report, Kentucky’s overall performance in “The Teaching Profession” area ranks us in fifth place in the nation for teaching quality. Wow!
But, hold on a minute.
According to the Associated Press, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a research and policy group that seeks to improve the quality of teaching, just issued its latest annual report on teacher quality.
Kentucky ranks only 41st for progress since 2009. The state’s 2011 grade was a deplorable “D+,” unchanged from 2009. That score is well below the “B-” Quality Counts gave us.
Does this mean that the NCTQ is right and Education Week is wrong?
The real issue here is that there is such sharp disagreement regarding teacher quality, a disagreement apparently fueled by a deplorable lack of really good and compelling research about what makes a good teacher (See, for example, Arthur Levine’s “Educating School Teachers” for more on that problem).
I will note a couple of interesting things about Quality Counts’ teacher profession rankings. The report shows Kentucky currently does not tie teacher evaluation to student achievement and student growth data. That will change in the future, but up until now, this has been the case.
Kentucky also does not evaluate teachers annually, which may be a surprise to many working in the private sector. Evaluating anyone in a demanding job, even tenured teachers, on a multi-year cycle is inadequate.
Furthermore, there are no incentives for teachers to move to high demands schools, not even for those supposedly superior teachers who get national board certification. There is no incentive for principals to move to high demands schools, either.
It’s hard to understand how Quality Counts could rank Kentucky’s teaching corps so highly overall when the state is lacking in those key areas.
I was also struck by several areas in the NCTQ report. On page 18, the report says that the overall preparation of Kentucky’s elementary school teachers does not meet the goal. On page 23 it says more specifically that Kentucky’s elementary school teachers are not being properly prepared to teach reading and explains on page 24 that our teachers are not being taught what scientific research about reading instruction shows. That is a very serious finding which goes hand in glove with the fact that Kentucky excludes large proportions of learning disabled students from the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading assessments in both fourth and eighth grade. I have seen some reports based on Functional Magneto-Resonance Imaging that indicate students with disabilities especially need to be taught to read with proper methods.
Page 26 in the NCTQ report says our elementary school teacher preparation programs meet only a small part of the goals for teaching math, as well.
We do better with middle and high school teacher preparation, but it looks like our upper grade teachers probably have to cope with a lot of challenges students bring along as a consequence inadequately prepared elementary school teachers.