Fixing No Child Left Behind: Supporting Teachers and School Leaders
Testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray, members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify today. My name is Dan Goldhaber and I am the director of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) at the American Institutes for Research and the director of the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington Bothell. I have been engaged in research on schools and student achievement for about 20 years, and much of my work focuses on the broad array of human capital policies that influence the composition, distribution, and quality of teachers in the workforce.
Let me begin by saying that while these hearings are focused on fixing No Child Left Behind (NCLB), it is important to recognize that not all parts need fixing. The annual testing requirement of NCLB made possible a great deal of learning about the importance of the nation’s educators. Empirical evidence now clearly buttresses intuition that teachers differ significantly from one another in terms of their impacts on student learning and shows that these differences have long-term consequences for students’ later academic (Goldhaber and Hansen, 2010; Jackson and Bruegmann, 2009; Jacob and Lefgren, 2008; Kane and Staiger, 2008) and labor market (Chamberlain, 2013; Chetty et al., 2014; Jackson, 2013) success. There is also now good evidence that the quality of our educators has real implications for our nation’s long-term economic health (Hanushek, 2011). Research on school leaders is far less extensive, but it too suggests that principals, not surprisingly, significantly influence student achievement, in part by affecting the quality of teachers in their schools (Branch et al., 2012; Coelli and Green, 2012; Grissom and Loeb, 2011; Grissom et al., 2013).
We also know that disadvantaged students tend to have less access to high quality teachers, whether the measure of quality is observable teacher credentials or student-growth (Clotfelter, et al. 2011; Goldhaber, et al. in press; Isenberg et al., 2013; Sass et al., 2012). This is problematic from an equity perspective in that public education is probably the single best social equalizer, offering opportunities for individuals to improve their socioeconomic status through hard work. A well-functioning education system can and should provide disadvantaged students with ways to escape poverty, but an unequal distribution of quality educators implies inequity in opportunity.
A second overarching point is that information about individual educators’ needs is fundamental for informing teacher and school leader supports and for learning what policies and practices improve educator effectiveness.
I am worried that a change we might see with reauthorization—a move away from a requirement of uniform statewide annual year-over-year testing—would greatly shrink and possibly even eliminate our knowledge of educator effectiveness, its distribution among students, and its responsiveness to different policies and practices. In short, it would greatly limit the information we need to make schools better.
The reasons are simple. First, the right measure of the impacts of educators is one based on progress over time, not achievement at any given point. To be blunt, measures that do not track progress simply are not credible. And, second, we can compare the learning in one locality to another only when the yardstick measuring learning is the same in both. The most important educator policies are controlled by states—regulation of teacher education programs, licensure, induction and mentoring, tenure, layoffs, and often compensation. This suggests that states need solid information about educator outcomes, including impacts on student achievement, that are comparable across localities within a state to make good decisions about the policies that influence the entire teacher pipeline—from teacher preparation to the pay and status of in-service teachers to determining which teachers probably should not continue in the classroom.
So what do we know about supporting teachers and leaders? While many might naturally think about “support” in connection to incumbent educators, I take a more expansive view: support also includes pre-service education and policies and practices aimed at attracting and retaining high-quality educators.2 In outlining the research here, l’ll cover three broad categories: 1) teacher preparation, 2) professional development and incentives, 3) recruitment, retention, and the distribution of teachers. Then I will close with a few thoughts about what this research suggests about fixing NCLB.
Remarks continue - read the full text, with footnotes, in PDF format: