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First & Foremost

Of Course Teaching Experience Matters

Within the national debate over education lies a popular piece of conventional wisdom: After only a few years in the classroom, teachers’ effectiveness hits a plateau, and it becomes difficult for them to further improve student achievement.

But is the claim supported by research? The Learning Policy Institute recently dove into existing data, surveys, and reports to shed some light on the relationship between teaching experience and student outcomes.

The verdict: Experience matters—even in the second decade of teaching and beyond.

Based on an analysis of 30 studies published over the past 15 years, researchers Tara Kini and Anne Podolsky found that:

  • Gains in teacher effectiveness are most striking during the first five years in the classroom, but continue to increase during the second—and often third—decades of a career.
  • As their teachers gain experience, and students’ academic performance begins to improve, student attendance also rises.
  • For teachers to be effective at any point in their careers, they must be a part of a supportive and collegial school environment. Stability in teaching assignments is also key. Teachers are most effective in the same grade level, subject, or district.
  • More experienced teachers support greater student learning for their colleagues and the school as a whole, and for their own students. Novice teachers, in particular, benefit most from having more experienced colleagues.

“Plaintiffs failed to establish that the challenged statutes violate equal protection, primarily because they did not show that the statutes inevitably cause a certain group of students to receive an education inferior to the education received by other students.”

—Justice Roger Boren,

California Court of Appeal Divided Over ‘No-Zero’ Grading Policy

Beginning in the 2016 – 2017 school year, middle and high school students in Fairfax County, Va., will have “multiple opportunities” to complete assignments before they can receive a zero at the end of the quarter. Teachers are encouraged, however, to assign a grade no lower than 50 if a “reasonable attempt” by the student is made to complete work. A small but growing number of school districts have implemented similar new grading systems that ban (or come close to it) grades of less than 50. It’s known as the so-called “no-zero” policy. Supporters argue that such a low mark on a 100-point scale doesn’t accurately measure what a student knows and pushes them to give up on a class mid-semester.

“It shouldn’t matter when students turn in an assignment. If they’ve got the knowledge, they’ve got the knowledge. So are we measuring that or their behavior?” says Kevin Hickerson, president of the Fairfax Education Association.

But some educators wonder what may be lost if no-zero policies take hold. “A large portion of my work focuses on encouraging students to take pride in their work and follow through solving challenging tasks,” explains Natalie Barnes, a math teacher in Maryland’s Prince George County. “A grading policy that says ‘good faith’ is only completing half of the assignment completely undermines this message.”

Technology Underused in Classrooms?

In 2015 – 2016, researchers conducted nearly 147,000 direct classroom observations in K–12 schools in the United States and other countries to examine how teachers and students use technology. Their conclusion? There are still “relatively few classrooms in which students’ use of digital tools and technology is a regular part of the school experience.”

In more than half of classrooms (53 percent), students did not use technology to gather, evaluate, or use information for learning. Furthermore, in two-thirds of the classrooms, there was little evidence that students were using technology to solve problems or communicate.

Supreme Court Affirms Race-Conscious Admissions in Higher Education

The U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld the University of Texas’ (UT) race-conscious admissions program, a decision that allows public and private universities to continue providing students the substantial benefits of learning in an integrated and diverse student body.

By a vote of 4-3, the Court upheld the decision of a lower court in the case, known as Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin. In writing the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy specifically said that UT must continually assess its need for race-conscious admissions, but also that race-conscious admissions are “meaningful.”

“We do not live in a colorblind society, and race still matters,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said in response to the decision. “When it comes to public education—whether it’s preschool or graduate school—racial classifications continue to carry great weight. If we’re serious about ensuring every child has access to a great public school, no matter his or her ZIP code, then we must uphold diversity programs.”

Does $90 Improve a Test Score?

The support for high-stakes testing rests on a belief that a test score accurately measures what a student has learned. Therefore, many argue, standardized tests should be a major factor in evaluating teachers. Jeffrey Livingston, an economics professor at Bentley University, wondered what would happen if you offered students a financial reward of $90 to do well on a standardized test. Livingston and some colleagues created a trial using students in Chicago. What they found is that students did much better on the test that was incentivized, but did not show the same gains on the official standardized test they took a week earlier.

The policy implications are crucial, says Livingston. “The results suggest that students do not try as hard as they can on tests where they have nothing to gain personally. This calls into question the appropriateness of using standardized tests that have no impact on a student’s welfare as an evaluation of a student’s academic progress,” Livingston explains.

States Increase Prison Spending Over Education

According to a 2016 U.S. Department of Education analysis, over the last three decades, state and local spending on prisons and jails has increased at triple the rate of funding for public education for preK–12 education. Even when population changes are considered, 23 states increased per capita spending on corrections at more than double the rate of increases in per-pupil preK–12 spending. Idaho, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia increased their corrections budgets more than five times as fast as they did their allocations for preK–12 public education.

Why Teachers in Urban Schools Should Drop the ‘Savior Complex’

In his book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too, Dr. Christopher Emdin, an associate professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, conveys his methods of “reality pedagogy” and challenges the biased perception of inner city youth being “unreachable.” White educators are not in the classroom to “save” students, he writes, but should focus instead on integrating the cultures and views of the students into the learning experience.

What recent education trends prompted you to write the book?

Christopher Emdin: I think the biggest trend in contemporary education that I found problematic, is that it’s layered. There is a high number of educators teaching in schools highly populated with students of color, [and those educators] don’t reflect the community. If you go in schools right now, almost all Black schools have a 90 percent White staff. And of course you hear or see that and go “well, that’s interesting,” but most of these staff don’t live in the community, they don’t understand the community, they don’t know the socio-economic background of the community, and have a perception about those students based upon where they come from.

You say many White teachers come into the classroom believing that children of color need to be “saved.” What does that mean exactly, and why is this approach counterproductive?

CE: The vision that kids need to be saved equates to thinking something’s wrong with them. There’s no teacher who should go into a space thinking that the students are inherently bad. If you are walking into a classroom and see students as victims, you are seeing them as having an inherent flaw that only you can fix. You [the teacher] are there to help them learn and allow them to do the fixing for themselves.

The savior complex is also problematic because it reinforces the notion that the teacher is the hero. To be a good teacher the effective skill you need is not ego. It’s humility. You look at the natural, raw, unpolished beauty of the neighborhood, and if you are looking to save someone, you cannot see that.

How can a teacher successfully bring to a classroom the pedagogy of co-teaching along with the class, or, as you call it, “the structure of a hip-hop cipher”?

CE: The beginning step is to understand that you are a partner in the process. When we talk about education, we are talking about teaching and learning at equal value. To be able to maximize the opportunity for people to be able to learn, it requires maximizing the opportunity for them to teach. The best teachers are also the best learners. Now, the teacher may be an expert in content, but the students are the experts in their cultures. The best teachers learn that in order for them to be able to effectively deliver content, they must be willing to learn about the students.

What does teaching for social justice mean to you and do you see it gaining a foothold in classrooms?

CE: Social justice is the recognition of the fact that the system that we are living in is actually complicit in the oppression of our people. For me, social justice is about awareness, and it’s about solution. How do you make people aware about patriarchy? Bias? The inequities that exist? Discrimination in communities? How do you make people aware that good, well-intentioned people are a part of the machine that is fulfilling violence against people of color? And then, after identifying the problem, what is the solution? Educators must think of how they will teach differently, about how they will change the curriculum to address these conditions.

I feel like the work to advance social justice has become more visible. I hold talks, I get phone calls, and hundreds of educators to speak out on Twitter.

—Maya Elie

Homeless Students Double Over Past Decade

In the 2013 – 2014 school year, there were more than 1.3 million homeless students, a 7 percent increase from the previous year and more than double the number in 2006 – 2007, according to a 2016 report by GradNation.

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