kitchen table math, the sequel: Gold Star teachers

Monday, February 28, 2011

Gold Star teachers

I like this idea:
Proposals for a Cost-Conscious Era: "Gold Star Teachers"

By Rick Hess on October 13, 2010 9:30 AM

For decades, the go-to school improvement recipe has been to reduce class size. Any challenge to this status quo encounters a buzz saw of opposition from parents and teachers who like small classes. That's why national teacher-student ratios are down to 15:1 today. Yet the research backing across-the-board class reduction is thin, at best. International evidence shows no simple relationship between class size and student achievement. Some high-performing nations boast middle or high school class sizes of 40 to 50 students. Small classes are costly and the need to keep adding bodies forces school systems to be less selective and training to be less focused.

Given that 55% of K-12 spending funds teacher salaries and benefits, you can't cut costs without boosting the productivity of good teachers--which requires increasing class size. But trying to sell that argument to parents or teachers is a dead end. Hence, the Gold Star program offers teachers who are at least reasonably effective the opportunity, should they so choose, to teach more kids per class and to be rewarded for taking on a larger workload. Such a state-level program would offer a chance to reshuffle the incentives and create a productivity-enhancing dynamic.

Teachers whose students post larger-than-normal gains for at least two consecutive years would be eligible to opt into the program. While I have consistently explained that value-added data systems have real limitations, they do provide a systematic way to identify teachers whose students are at least improving in math and reading at better-than-average rates. This gives some assurance that these teachers are at least reasonably effective. Participating teachers would teach up to 50% more students than normal--say, 36 students rather than 24--and would be rewarded for their increased workload. Continued participation would depend on a teacher's students continuing to make larger-than-normal gains. Given data limitations, states would be advised to pilot such programs in grades four through eight.

While parents prefer small classes in general, small classes also frustrate parents whose children can't get seats in the class of a heralded teacher. The Gold Star program lowers these barriers by allowing access to the most effective teachers for more kids. Given the choice between a Gold Star Teacher serving more children and the alternative, many or most parents will likely prefer the larger class. But it is essential that it be a parental choice and not an administrative fiat.

Teachers and taxpayers would also win big. On average, given current teacher salaries and benefits, increasing class size by one student saves something like $3,000; so allowing a talented teacher to instruct 36 rather than 24 saves up to $36,000. Awarding the teacher half that amount yields an $18,000 productivity bonus (a 35% bump for the median teacher). The state and district would split the other $18,000. Even on a trial basis in grades four through eight, such a program could help states shave school spending by two or three percent--tallying hundreds of millions in some cases while rewarding excellent educators.
Parents have choice, teachers have choice, and spending declines.

Offhand, I don't think this approach would necessarily interfere with professional learning communities, but I don't know.


Lsquared said...

I really like that idea. Voluntary, but with incentives. Nice.

Now, one thing that might make it fail is our attachment to heterogeneous classes. I suspect that teachers can be effective with lots of students only if the classes are pretty homogeneous. 35-40 students that are all mostly on the same track is a lot easier to deal with than a class with students at 3-4 different levels.

Catherine Johnson said...

Actually - I should have thought of that.

You can't put 40 completely different kids in one classroom.

Large class size depends on homogeneous classrooms.

see: "The Efficient Use of Teachers" by Steven F. Wilson:

Scroll down to "Class formation":

SABIS teachers routinely succeed with classes of thirty students. Ralph Bistany, SABIS’s founder, sees it is as SABIS’s mission to demonstrate that a world-class education can be delivered affordably and scoffs at those who claim thirty children cannot be taught effectively in one classroom. “First, we need to define the word ‘class,’” he says. “Every course has a prerequisite—concepts that the course is going to use but not explain. That list of concepts determines who belongs in the class and who doesn’t.” If the course is German, and one student is fluent and others cannot speak a word of the language, the students obviously should not be taught together, he explains. At SABIS, students in a class have the same background but neither, he hastens to say, “the same ability nor the same knowledge.” So formed, it doesn’t matter whether the class has ten students or fifty. “In fact, fifty is better,” he adds. “We have worked with classes of seventy in countries where it is allowed, and it has worked like a charm.”

Allison said...

My son will start K in the fall, so we're deep in the trenches of visiting schools and talking to other parents visiting schools.

It is impossible for me to overstate how much the parents I know of soon-to-be-kindergarteners rely on teacher-student ratio as an indicator of effectiveness.

No kidding it's a dead end to argue this point. I wonder if it's a factor of the age of the child? Parents just assume small children need more supervision? All of the data I've seen says class size is irrelevant, and I've tried to say the same to my peers in this regard, to no avail. I now usually just rephrase it as "I'm more interested in smooth transitions and stable classrooms vs. chaotic ones rather than the ratio per se."

I've now seen chaotic classrooms of 16 children and 1 adult, and stable classrooms of 20some and 1 adult, but mostly, parents simply assume that their child needs INDIVIDUAL ATTENTION in order to be well taught, and that's why the ratio matters.

so, yes, in a heterogeneous classroom, you have no real choice but to lower the ratio, because every child need individual attention rather than sorting and binning the kids so they can function as a group.

I wonder if parents just leave that assumption in place, as well--an assumption based on their view of their child as a preschooler, and don't really spend time rethinking the need for a small classroom in, say, 5th grade.

It might also be a proxy for a small *school*, which parents may desire because it feels less scary.

It would be interesting to see if Gold Star Teachers are those who find a way to push the bottom up so that their class has less dispersion. Also be interesting to see how much Gold Star teachers want to differentiate instruction in the classoom.

lgm said...

I think I understand the 'individual attention' need now that our elementary changed its ways. In the past, the individual attention was given in small group instruction for LA and Math and Band/Recorder sectionals and it was sufficient for a nonclassified child.

These days, in large whole class instruction, with Band/recorder cut & sometimes with switching teachers for LA and Math, the nondisruptive children get lost as they are totally ignored in the chaos. For us, we had a month where the only person that would talk to my 8 yr old was a teacher who had the duty of greeting the youngsters as they walked in the door - fortunately he was doing his job instead of chatting with an aide as most do. The only way for a nondisruptive, nonclassified child to talk to an adult was to become disruptive or be so depressed that the psych was aked to help. The school has since changed a little, mostly by asking the 1:1 aides and the push-in sped teachers to help and talk to unclassified children whenever possible.
So, the parents are politically not able to say that full inclusion doesn't work, or that grouping by ability is necessary, but they can ask for smaller class sizes in the hopes that the truly disruptive don't land in their child's section - and if they do, they'll go up the ladder and get a section change.

For me, I had 35 in grade 5. It was not a problem as small group instruction was used in both reading and math..we were split into 3 groups and there were no disruptive children. My teachers beleived in keeping us challenged, so we did not have time to get into trouble. SRA cards, unrestricted access to library books, math challenges etc were available, unlike in today's classrooms.

Catherine Johnson said...

Haven't read both comments closely but wanted to say quickly (to Allison) that K-5 parents universally want tiny class sizes BUT once your children are actually in school you also want the best teachers -- and typically, at least in my experience, K-5 parents know who those teachers are.

I would bet a large sum of money that a significant number of parents - possibly a majority - would opt for the great teacher and the larger class size over the not-great teacher with the small class size.

Importantly, this would be a **choice** not an 'administrative fiat,' as Hess says. Parents feel differently about things when they're making a choice - and I think a lot of parents would make a good choice based on their particular child.

Say you have a disruptive, hyper-type kid, you might opt for the smaller class -- OR you might opt for the great teacher if you know she's terrific at maintaining order and friendly to hyper kids -- you'd make your decision based on the individuals involved.

I talked to a mom here whose child was put in a class the principal thought she'd be unhappy with...I think it was the 'collaborative class'?? Collaborative is code for full-inclusion.

She jumped at it because it had a great teacher and a second teacher, too.

I think that was her reasoning; I should call her and get her to run the whole thing by me again.

Now, she is a parent who has already raised a couple of kids and then had a mid-life baby - so she's experienced. If I'm remembering correctly, she saw herself as making a choice the new parents wouldn't make.

(I'm writing all this from memory -- which we shouldn't trust!)

Point is: once you're actually inside a school, you really, really want your child to have the great teacher, and you really, really want your child not to have the teacher with the bad reputation, and parents will make trade-offs accordingly.

Cranberry said...

Such a model would work if the class were reasonably homogeneous. It would not work if the students didn't share the same work ethic. My daughter has stories of classes purposefully brought off track in middle school by students (often boys).

If you are allowed to track on grades and behavior, the model would work. If the 30, 40, 50 kids are a random assortment, it would not work. One student can derail instruction for every other kid in the class.

If I had the choice, I'd opt for small classes of selected kids.

Jo in OKC said...

The nice thing about a bigger classroom (to a point) is that it is easier to group students. If you have 10 heterogeneous students you could end up with 1 off the charts high, 8 in the middle, and 1 below normal. In a larger classroom, the chance of being able to have groups of more than 1 child is increased (you may still not have someone AS advanced as your off the charts high kid, but you might be able to have an advanced group that went faster or deeper than the general group).

My daughter's been in class sizes from 8 to 35. The smaller class size is not always better. Some teachers won't provide individual instruction or differentiation even when they can because they view their job as teaching the class not each student. Others can succeed admirably with a group 3 times the size.

My brother actually moved his son from a small school because the class was SO small that he felt that the teacher was almost watching for the kids to make (behavioral) mistakes and get corrected.