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Teacher Headhunting?

By Michael Goldstein

When information flows freely, people make lists. They reorder it. For example, in Massachusetts, when MCAS was first created, the state released school data alphabetically. Newspapers immediately published the data in order of test scores. After years of push by the school superintendents, the state responded in 2009 by releasing MCAS "growth" scores -- gains.

This data created some interesting new narratives, like this.

Perhaps in the near future we'll see the same thing with teachers. Individual teacher data is being published. So next, we'll see more lists of their names. A first reaction will be, just like with any ratings, will be a mix of attacking the publishers and the top performers, like this:

In the initial weeks after the article came out, Aguilar said he "went through hell." "There's a lot of jealousy and hate out there.... People said things like, 'There's this guy who thinks he's all good just because he's Latino and he's friends with the kids. How do you know he's not cheating?'''

But evidently things thawed a bit. "Steinbeck (the principal) asked Aguilar if he'd be willing to lead a school-wide training session. Aguilar said her request 'blew my mind.' The demonstration to a classroom full of teachers in February was well received. So he went grade by grade giving sample lessons as the teachers looked on. Within six weeks, third-grade proficiency in reading and comprehension rose from 20% to 30%, Steinbeck said."

I'd guess many EdWeek readers strongly oppose this sort of publication. Some don't believe the data actually tells us anything of value (i.e., they'd say Aguilar is likely no better or worse than other teachers); others think the data is modestly useful, but imprecise; it should be used somehow but not be made public. Nonetheless, I think this trend is likely to continue, and will result in a couple of developments.

First, teachers like Aguilar will be headhunted. As coaches. As leaders. As simply higher-paid teachers. As teachers who, in lieu of increased compensation, get to call their own shots in terms of whatever they want the most -- curriculum freedom, assistance with certain tasks, flexible funds for student projects or trips. This will create some upward wage pressure. That's what happens in other professions. It happens with universities (based on professor prestige).

Second, top teachers will also get some of the same treatment high-scoring schools are right now: hundreds of visitors. Do many individual teachers get hundreds of visitors? I don't think so -- yet. If you believe, as I do, that the field is way too steeped in ivory tower theory, and not enough research from the best schoolteachers, research on teaching methods will advance if we can get past the "whole school" level and think more deeply about the individual teacher level, in part because the transaction costs will be lower to find teachers who, based on imperfect data, at least seem to be unusually effective.

Michael A. Goldstein is the founder of MATCH Charter School and MATCH Teacher Residency, a specialized teacher-preparation initiative. He also helped to launch a 2010 pilot project to deploy 250 full-time math tutors in nine Houston turnaround schools (as part of the Apollo 20 Project). He serves, or has served, on various advisory boards, including the Boston Schoolchildren's Consortium, the National Council for Teacher Quality, and transition teams for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Gov. Mitt Romney

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