kitchen table math, the sequel: do principals know who the best teachers are?

Monday, November 15, 2010

do principals know who the best teachers are?

If principals and other administrators are doing their jobs, they already know who the best and worse teachers are. One year, Brookline administered one form of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in the fall to third graders and the state administered a different form of the same test in the spring. I calculated the mean gain score for each teacher and asked the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction to tell me which teachers would have the highest and lowest gain scores. She got the group of highest teachers exactly right and missed only one of the lowest. I would expect building-based administrators to do even better. More formal analysis confirms my experience (Murnane, 1975; Jacob and Lefgren, 2008).

Measurement Matters: Perspectives on Education Policy from an Economist and School Board Member (pdf file)
by Kevin Lang


SteveH said...

Our middle school principal knows(I could tell based on her comments), but there is not much that can be done. Teachers expect much more autonomy that those in other fields. There is also the issue of tenure. Also, this skill doesn't necessarily translate into the ability to predict the future when interviewing new teachers.

Jen said...

The principal also knows the students and they know the make-up of the classes. I would guess that anyone in a school who had seen a year or two's worth of scores could do this same thing. Any smart administrator also puts the right kids with the right teachers.

Not to say that there aren't better and worse teachers, but this doesn't seem like a rare skill.

PhysicistDave said...


Based on my personal experience I’m not optimistic.

In high school, I was friends with the assistant principal: shortly before my junior year, he told me that he was putting me in a class with a great new Lit teacher.

She was horrible: just as one example, early on, she told the class that she knew they were all concerned about having high grades to get into college and that she would do her best to give them grades as high as possible. This was even worse than it sounds, a horrible misreading of that class and that school – for example, I was one of the few kids in the class who actually was college-bound. (She was a nice lady, just a bad teacher.)

Another example: it took us students years to get the physics teacher removed from teaching physics – although he should not even have passed a high-school physics class himself. My best friend and I finally kept a year-long dossier on the guy and presented it to my friend the assistant principal. That finally did the trick, although we were far from the first class to be upset with the physics teacher’s grotesque incompetence. The administration seemed clueless about the guy’s incompetence until we laid it out.

Furthermore, the administration encourage some of their very best teachers to take early retirement: the best history teacher retired and went on to work part-time at the state penitentiary teaching lifers about Plato’s Republic, etc. (he said it was an interesting experience!).

I suppose it is possible that we just had a remarkably clueless school administration. But, over the years, talking with various educators, my impression is otherwise – I think very few people who get out of the Ed Schools actually know what a good teacher is.

Dave Miller in Sacramento

RMD said...

Doesn't this observation contradict the general findings of the LAUSD value-added study?

Allison said...

The general finding of the LAUSD story was that no typically quantified measure was correlated with excellence or weakness in teaching. Those measures were these like years of experience, number and type of degrees, prof dev events, race, SES, etc.

I don't see how that says anything one way or another about what principals and C&I folks actually know about their teachers.

But the real problem isn't that they do or don't know who the good ones are. It's what they do about it. Do they punish the ones who are good because they are demanding and have high expectations? Do they reward the ones who teach social justice at the expense of test scores? Do they make ANY attempt at all to improve the quality of poor teachers, or remove poor teachers from the classroom?

If the answer is that the culture isn't going to do anything to fix bad teaching, what does it matter if they know or don't know?