Teaching Poor Kids: Is the Obstacle the Poverty or the Pedagogy?

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One dispute over tying teacher evaluations to  data on student growth has been the charge that teachers who are effective with wealthy students would see their value-added scores plummet with poor students.  Those opposed to data-infused evaluations argue that even great teachers can’t maintain the same degree of effectiveness with needy kids. It’s the poverty, not the pedagogy.

However, there’s a new working paper out from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Educational Research, “Portability of Teaching Effectiveness Across School Settings,” that comes to a different conclusion. From the abstract:

Redistributing highly effective teachers from low- to high-need schools is an education policy tool that is at the center of several major current policy initiatives. The underlying assumption is that teacher productivity is portable across different schools settings. Using elementary and secondary school data from North Carolina and Florida, this paper investigates the validity of this assumption. Among teachers who switched between schools with substantially different poverty levels or academic performance levels, we find no change in those teachers’ measured effectiveness before and after a school change. This pattern holds regardless of the direction of the school change. We also find that high-performing teachers’ value-added dropped and low-performing teachers’ value-added gained in the post-move years, primarily as a result of regression to the within-teacher mean and unrelated to school setting changes. Despite such shrinkages, high-performing teachers in the pre-move years still outperformed low-performing teachers after moving to schools with different settings.

In other words, the quality of pedagogy does matter, regardless of the socio-economic level of students.

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3 Comments

  • kallikak, July 2, 2012 @ 1:10 pm Reply

    Eureka! Our problems are answered: just require that all teachers in Ridgewood must work one of every three years in Newark to retain their jobs.

    Ya gotta love it.

  • Galton, July 2, 2012 @ 4:17 pm Reply

    Dr Waters,
    You seem a bit naive with regard to VAM measures. As a school board president, you must know at least one great teacher, if so, ask the administration how that teacher ranks on the SGP metrics. Then, start to ask around and see if the metrics you so blindly value are worthy of your admiration.

    Honest reflection will undoubtably be quite humbling. Are you courageous enough to reflect?

  • An Educational Enthusiast, July 2, 2012 @ 5:51 pm Reply

    Repost from Dr. Chant:

    This is just one more example of an attempt to simplify an amazingly complex context. The study is problematic from the very beginning in that it uses very simplistic, quantifiable metrics in measuring teacher performance, which then becomes the base of their conclusions. It's funny, but they acknowledge these limitations by saying the following: “Because teachers in our analytic sample are linked to a single classroom each year in most cases, our models cannot accommodate classroom characteristics variables. In addition, as the primary purpose of this study is to compare teacher value-added in different schools and school settings, our models do not include school fixed effects.” This is why J. Schwab's work in The Practical, which takes into account the learners, teachers, subject, and milieu when examining classrooms is worth revisiting. I'm just not convinced that teacher quality is accurately reflected in an instrument that uses test scores as the majority measure. It's just too simplistic.

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