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Schools and Teacher Effectiveness


Schools are not doing enough to guide classroom instruction, Mike Schmoker and Richard Allington argue in this Education Week commentary. As a result, they say, most teachers resort to worksheets and coloring books, when they should be developing students' critical reading and writing skills and promoting analytical classroom discussions.

"The key to better schools is not commissions or new commercial curriculum materials, or even professional development," Mr. Schmoker and Mr. Allington write. "Each of these lacks the most basic, critical ingredient: a willingness to establish clear expectations for instruction, to arrange for teachers to work in teams so they can meet and exceed those expectations, and to institute simple routines for honestly and continuously monitoring teaching to ensure its effectiveness."

What do you think? How could schools best improve teachers' effectiveness?


I think that, as a starting point, we need to define what we mean by effectiveness. If we are talking about effectiveness as being about outcomes such as achieving a love of learning for itself, then the methods that we use will be very different if those outcomes are about passing exams with good grades.

Peter Stannack

I think we can start by providing teachers with effective tools that interest the students as well as helps prepare them for the 21st century career. This includes but it is not limited to interactive whiteboards (SMART.com), interactive response systems to help monitor class progress, document cameras for real-life exposure, and applicable lesson plans. It's hard to teach technically saavy children with a chalkboard. Please visit www.sbcg.com and contact A. Harrison for more information.

It has been my experience, at the District level and at the State level, that a foundational piece of establishing a true Professional Learning Community is a well designed and implemented new teacher induction program.
The word "community" infers that ALL are included, have a voice, and are treated equitibly. These conditions cannot be met as long as the norm is to exploit our newest members of the profession, as is all too often the case, as proven by numerous studies by Ingersoll, Darling-Hammond, et. al.

I agree with the need for teachers to set higher expectations and be able to collaborate but before we are able to institutionalize this dream we must:
1. Employ Supt. that have vision, leadership skills AND knowledge in curriculum and instruction;
2. Employ principals with demonstrated knowledge, experience and confidence in leading and assisting in the teaching and learning process
3. Train Supt. and all administrators as well as school board members in ICT literacy and 21st century skills
4. Add approximately 10 more days to the school calendar to allow for professional development to focus on information and communications technology literacy, 21st century skills and collaboration (www.21stcenturyskills.org)
5. Bring the educational training institutions into the 21st century
6. Educate governors legislators and businesses about 21st century skills
7. Partner with the business community to pressure legislatures to wake up to the reality that only education will cure the coming social and economic challenges of outsourcing, downsizing, as well as national and global mergers
8. Perhaps first, we must educate parents that their children, for the most part, are not receiving an education that is preparing them for life in a global economy/village with massive changes over the next 10 years and beyond

I believe that one of the areas of concern about which we can do something is teacher effectiveness. The reasons why so many teachers are so ineffective are multiple. They include but are not limited to ineffective teacher preparation programs (both regular track and alternate track), low expectations of children, and continued ineffective professional development after teachers are in the classroom. It is not low wages or inadequate facilities because I have witnessed many times over effective teachers facilitating learning for their students despite the terrible pay and horrific facilities. I believe it will take the nation to realize the importance of the teaching profession; after all, it is teaching that makes all other professions possible. Yet not everyone believes in its importance in shaping the future of the country. It takes effective teachers in every classroom, not just the "gifted" ones. In fact, it is those students who struggle most that get the weakest teachers. Many times these are first year teachers who have to first "earn their wings" so to speak. It is systemic in many respects. It is fixable, but we must begin with both teacher education programs that not only teach theory but practical and effective application of those theories as well as professional development collaboratives that address classroom instruction and pedagogy. If you can't act upon theories in an effective way, what good are they to the practioner, which is what teachers are? If you think about it, teachers are like doctors, except doctors must act and use best practices based on theories as well as what has worked in the past. We know what doesn't work, yet we have teachers that operate in "the way we've always done it" mode. This is the definition of insanity...doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It will take ongoing professional development that collaborates with districts nationwide to facilitate additional understanding and effective implementation of best practices in education. It will also take a force of people who not only believe that every child has the potential to learn, but effectively acts upon this belief as well, so all children, regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, religion, etc. does have equitable opportunity to learn. It will take an unwavering belief that teachers are the most important element in whether students learn or not.

Feedback to teachers from classroom observations should come in the form of objective data, not observer judgments and comments. Teachers are willing and able to analyze data on classroom behaviors, their own and students, and to draw intelligent conclusions. There are tools available for objective data collection (my own eCOVE Software is one), that can change the process from 'pleasing the evaluator' to collaborative, professional decision making based on objective data.

Each quarter I find myself in conversations with students and colleagues which turn to the topic of 'teacher quality' and 'teacher effectiveness.' There is much confusion about the proper use of these generic terms among students, teachers, academics, and most especially those in the media who like to espouse some expertise in the field. The confusion stems from a speaker or writer using these general terms (teacher quality or teacher effectiveness) when what they intend to express is some finer distinction. They typically do not use the finer distinction because they simply DO NOT understand the nature of what they are talking about or writing about enough to be able to use these distinctions properly. Most writers of education articles who are non-educators do not generally understand the context or underlying construct of these education terms. Some educators do not. This leads to journal articles and education articles published in the media that are many times nonsensical, untrue, misleading, and illogical.

At the core of this discussion are the questions; How do you define effective teaching?, What are the components of effective teaching?, and What influences the effectiveness of a teacher?

There are very critical distinctions that underlie the generalized term 'teacher quality.' Those who use the term 'teacher quality' in a general way are almost always referring to (a) 'teaching quality,' (b) 'teacher quality' (specifically), and/or (c) 'teaching qualifications.' These three are typically lumped together in people's minds and referred to more generally as 'teacher quality' by those who do not understand the distinctions. Further compounding the problem (d) 'teaching conditions' are either ignored in a discussion of teacher outcomes ('teacher effectiveness') or are incorrectly referenced within a general discussion under the umbrella term 'teacher quality.' That is to say that while teaching conditions affect teacher effectiveness they are NOT a measure of teaching quality, teacher quality, and/or teaching qualifications. Not understanding the distinctions leads to conclusions on the part of the speaker or writer that are at best incorrect and at worst absurd.

Let me give you an example. I have read many articles and studied research where the term 'teacher quality' substituted for the author's real topic, 'teaching qualifications.' The only variables the authors used to support their conclusions about what they refered to generally as teacher quality were variables such as college GPA, SAT, years of teaching service, type of credential, etc. While these variables are all fine and good to use in part as measures of teacher effectiveness they DO NOT indicate the teacher quality but rather the teacher qualifications. Teacher qualifications influence teacher effectiveness. How much weight you give these measures as they relate to the effectiveness of a teacher is another matter indeed. Some research has shown that teacher qualifications only influence teacher effectiveness significantly in the early part of a teacher's career. So you can see that any writer who does not make this distinction when discussing the issue of teacher effectiveness is at best sloppy and at worst ignorant of the subject.

Most researchers and media prognosticators lean heavily on variables associated with teacher qualifications. Those variables are the most readily available variables and the most static, they don't change over time. What is much more difficult to measure are 'teaching practices.' Teacher quality and teaching quality fall under this category. Among these two teaching quality is easier to measure because the variables are observable practices. What is the most difficult to measure are those variables which fall under teacher quality. These include some measure of the dynamic characteristics, abilities, and decisions of teachers that make a teacher's practice unique. They are measures which are complex, generally not observable, and subjectively defined concepts. They are influenced heavily by a teacher's personality, what they have learned through experience, their beliefs, and their professional interaction with others. All of these variables are extremely difficult to measure even in the most promising environment. So when someone refers to teacher quality incorrectly it leads to confusion and inappropriate conclusions.

My hope is this discussion will begin to help everyone understand more clearly what role a teacher plays in student outcomes and what influences these outcomes. It is my desire to help put into context the concept of teacher effectiveness. Thinking about these distinctions will help inform one's beliefs about teacher effectiveness.

Students today are very quick to judge, react, answer, perform acts of danger and show increasingly more disrespect for themselves, peers, and the community they live, learn and work in. As a result teachers who want to teach are usually fighting a 3rd, who are saying "I ain't goin ta do what you want, We have to do how many?" Or cannot or have not learned to listen first and then ask without respecting social cues.
Teaching reading skills, by having the student research the author of an article or the background, create questions and submit them, by teaching them how to ask w,w,w,w,w,and H things have happened, using their own questions as inquiry question in a lesson generate personal meaning. Many do not know imagry and cannot relate to things in everyday life because of outside non-supervised or structured activites. Finding a visual and teaching them how to use technology as a resource book for background and finding of related material helps to develop the a mental picture, developing a powerpoint to display their ideas and evaluation can be made. Then reading and summarizing by using a reading roadmap where they are given directions to read to a certain point and write journal entries allows for expository writing later on larger projects. Also, many character and social skills can be taught in 5 min mini lessons each day with the studnets learning the appropriate way of communicating with others and comparing it to what they read or how they do it. Closing a lesson is done by having the students write on a 3 x 5 card an inferential, factual, critical, interprative or inquiry question which was answered for them. Daily use of computers and then using the newspaper to find broader topics in current events that go with the subject, storie, topic or character development and share it once a week allows them to learn how to use other forms of information to find answers, learn about the current events, make decisions, and become aware. To do the ditto duty is good and well but interacting with the information is better. The powerpoint cloze passage notetaking tactics of the recent teachers comming out is getting very boring also. It is just a video chalk board not an interactive lesson and touch and feel and abstract and inquiry based. So run the copiers, which are broken often, keeping techs at work. I would rather be creative and student driven by interest while infusing the learning standard of the subject, life, community and character. Earth is a family, 911 proved we all can get along and work together, stop the blame take examples of our leaders who rose above the violence to send a message and answer them with deliverence. We came together when needed, but we should come together regardless, life is to short for hate and resentment. Also, Someone take a stand against all the violence desensitizing our students, parents, single people and elders who feel it is stimulating. Yes in the living room but not as it whizzes by your ear, talk to a few vets. Education is power only if it is used to promote all, not a color, racial group or any group other than US as a whole. Old ways and new meld together in all the literature I read. Darwin and Origin of the Species is where we are, also when sports and athletics take presidence over our lives our civilazation will fall, Greeks and Romans found that out.

The key to academic success has always been the teacher/facilitator. It has not been the facility or the materials, but the personal factor of identifying strengths and learning styles and taking children up the ladder of skills. Being able to recognize strengths and support growth is the primary function of an effective teacher.

Unless the teaching profession gets the real trappings of "the profession," which establish the clear parameters of the power to employ the knowledge and professional expertise in the classroom teaching and share it with the colleagues both in the school and the curriculum creation, we talk the talk, but do not walk the walk.
Unlike other professions, teaching is besieged by faddish trends , which are instituted from above, by diktat. The schools are run by the people who would be hard pressed to provide personal example and know-how in effective classroom teaching and management, but who, nonetheless, are put in the position of leadership. We will not get professional teachers unless teachers are treated as full partners in the process of knowledge creation. We contradict ourselves when we point out at the effective classroom teaching as participatory learning, and, by the same token, deny the classroom teacher the participatory role in defining and conducting the process of teaching.
Unless the school "leadership" is made up of the effective educators who can personally demonstrate and lead in effective classroom pedagogy, we are left with smoke and mirrors, high fallutin pronouncements, and nothing else.
The organizational structure of the school with its hierarchical organization and the top-down bureaucratic control, discourages professional and knowledge creation, which is horizontal and participatory.

It is astonishing to me that so many of the responses steer clear of the basic recommendations of the article, which center on leadership finding out what is going on in classrooms and supporting teachers in developing learning communities to improve classroom practice.

I will grant that there is a shortage of knowledge and will amongst principals and other leadership when it comes to this subject, however, teachers are also reluctant to either cede entry or visit upon another's classroom space. Because I am the sort of nosy-parker parent that I am, I know that in my district the contract is very specific about how many visits a principal can make for evaluation and how much advance notice must be given. The district recently shortened the school day for high school students, with the only upside being a common planning period for all teachers at the beginning of the day. One of the union complaints was that in some buildings, principals were "pressuring teachers" to use this time to plan collaboratively (the other upset was that parents knew when to find them and they were actually coming in to TALK to teachers).

Yet, in this same district there was an upstart of a revolutionary principal who built collaborative learning communities of teachers to improve their teaching practice based on data, and in 2 years was able to achieve AYP in a building exclusively serving emotionally disturbed youth. What the authors are recommending is sound, and it works. As they say, the first step is admitting that you have a problem.

As a teacher educator in special education, I occasionally take some pride in a student exiting our program who can demonstrate effective teaching of young children with disabilities. But as a parent of two high school students in a large urban school district--attending a school with top test scores--I am constantly infuriated by observations and tales of lazy, bored, burnt-out high school teachers with little motivation to improve their instruction. Why should they, when the school already has high test scores? Remember the power of that old-fashioned variable, time on task? Let's revive it!

And yes, I know not all high school teachers are lazy. But before you criticize me, let me ask you--have you been a high school teacher? And can you honestly tell me this isn't a widespread problem? Kudos to Schmoker and Allington.

I teach 7th and 8th grade language arts to students who are a few years behind in reading, but not Special Ed students(because they have their own team of specialized support). I bust it everyday to be exactly the teacher my students need. Every class must be rich and meaningful and engaging - because if my students are going to make it in high school they have to make 2 years growth in reading in a year. Like Nancy Hunt, I can't stand to see teachers not working hard to be the best teacher they can. We expect our students to do their best work everyday - we have to do ours. But I have a very supportive administration and am part of a staff that actually works as a team. That matters very much. We observe each other. We strive to use common language, develop school-wide expectations for reading and writing, identify strategies that work with individual students.

It is difficult to respond to statements like, teachers needing to get beyond worksheets and coloring books. Both have a place in the development of effective learning environments. I must live in an alternate reality because the majority of teachers I see and interact with are dedicated, hard working professionals that strive for the best they can get from their students. The students as well, are curious and seeking answers. Sometimes, teachers simply don't allow the students to ask. Learning is a constant feedback loop, teachers learning along with students, developing the means to make the seemingly impossible available to the students. Learning is occurring on a constant basis and is often overlooked in the drive for accountability. Effective learning is not something that is measured on a scale. There is no measure that can accurately describe learning. It is not trivial knowledge or algorithymns. Learning is the development of the thinking being. It is not skills or random abilities. These are merely measures of the effects of learning, like a thermometer measures body temperature. The tool merely measures. It does not diagnose or recommend.

All states require that children are taught the states' standards. If teachers results to coloring books and worksheet; their attitude is about themselves and not the children. I don't believe there is enough time in a school day for children to do coloring and worksheets. There are too many resources for teachers to result to such a measure. As educators, we have must look at the big picture. We are not educating children for today but, for tomorrow.


Schools could best improve teachers' effectiveness by training teachers to individualize (not differentiated) their instruction instead of teaching most of the day in a whole group format. All children are different. They show up every September with different strengths and weaknesses. They all learn at different rates.

Unfortunately, what happens in 999 of 1000 classrooms in America is, the teacher puts everyone in the grade level reading and math book in September so by the end of the year the class is involuntarily cognitively homogenized. It's a sad but true commentary on our schools of education for training teachers in this traditional approach and an even sadder outcome for all students involved.

"Slower" learners should be afforded the time they need to grasp the material (through individualized, as opposed to whole group, instruction), and all other learners should be addressed at their appropriate "instructional" levels as well. Under individualized instruction, no student should ever be overwhelmed and no student should ever be bored.

If medical doctors or attorneys attempted to address their clientele the way teachers address theirs, the doctors and attorneys would be out of business by the end of their first week.

May 21, 2007

This is a response to your question, “How could schools best improve teachers’ effectiveness?” We could begin with offering better school safety training for both teachers and administrators. This area has been woefully neglected. We expect teachers to work more and more with children who have emotional problems, are defiant and frequently challenge authority. Recent statistics from the Department of Justice show an increase in teen violence for the past two years. These are children who are in our schools. Whether the cause is dysfunctional families, media impact, untreated emotional problems etc., really doesn’t matter, because society hasn’t been able to solve these problems yet. However, teachers will be facing these issues in school everyday. Teachers can’t teach and discipline children when they are afraid of them. Just examine the teacher drop out rate in many school districts. How many teachers leave the profession because they aren’t prepared for these challenges? Educators must be trained to recognize various forms of overt and covert violence. In addition, they must be taught how to deescalate potentially violent situations. Finally, they must be better trained to deal with a crisis.

The educational “leadership” in New York State currently requires all new teachers to attend a two hour school safety program. This program is taught by instructors who have completed a 6 hour training program. This has become the “Gold Standard” in our state. I don’t know what they were drinking or smoking when they thought this was sufficient school safety training.

School violence, in whatever form, overt or covert, is a plague on the house of education. Its’ consequences run from poor student academic performance, poor attendance, fights, bullying, gangs, weapons in school, teen suicide and worse. The bottom line for everyone to remember, whether you are an administrator, teacher or coach, “It is for the kids.” The safety and well being of the children comes first and foremost. When children don’t feel safe, they bring weapons to school for protection, they join gangs and their attention is diverted from academics.

When dealing with school safety, there are two approaches you could be proactive or reactive. In the short term, being proactive might seem more costly, but in the long run there is no comparison. Years ago, The School Principle’s Legal Alert suggested the average school lawsuit cost a district $250,000. Consider all the training that could be accomplished for a fraction of this cost.

I was once told by a student, “I have to learn from my own mistakes.” I responded by saying, “I prefer to learn from the mistakes of others.” In education, we have no choice but to learn from the mistakes of others. If we don’t learn, we run the risk of repeating them.

As far as my background goes, I am a retired school science teacher, 33 years in a junior/senior high school classroom and currently I teach two school safety graduate courses for Alfred University. This past year, I was brought on by the College of St. Rose to teach the school safety portion of their Master’s in Administration program. In addition, I have worked closely with the law enforcement community for the past 26 years as an instructor, consultant and student. Over the years, I have spoken at over 100 educational, law enforcement and martial arts conferences around the country. Additionally, I have presented programs for the Phi Delta Kappa International Conference, Safe Schools Coalition, New England League of Middle Schools, American Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers, National Crime Prevention Council, Youth Crime Watch and the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers to name a few. Furthermore, I have been involved with training thousands of teachers and administrators in staff development and in-service programs at over 20 NYS Teacher Centers and 30+ school districts across L.I.

Professor Arthur Cohen B.A., M.A.
CEO Target Consultants International/
Center for School and Personal Safety Research
P.O. Box 463
Massapequa Park, NY 11762
Email: [email protected] (516) 541-8092

It fascinates me that in 1984, we had three compelling studies that caught the attention of educators: "A Nation at Risk", Ted Sizer's "Horace's Compromise", and John Goodlad's "A Place Called School", and 23 years later we are still yakking about the state of public education. Teachers are the key to the quality of a school's effectiveness, and there are significantly more excellent teachers than not. And, they need to be given the opportunities to help drive the business of schooling. Working in teams, sharing successes and difficulties, adjusting instruction, and discussing the results of their noble work should be a part of a teacher's schedule. Whether we like it or not, teachers have the answers and need to have time to develop their solutions. Schools need to arrive at a focus for their work, stay on message as to the work to be done, develop a language of achievement within the school and community, analyze their results, make the appropriate adjustments, and celebrate their success. The school leadership should be there with the resources. School leadership should encourage teamwork and play a vital role in the team effort. School system leadership and school boards would be well advised to listen to teachers, and believe in their abilities. I have a three belief system and it goes like this. "Love children." This means make sure every single day of school that the school provides the best lessons, environment, and culture possible. This is an expression of love. "Trust teachers." After all, this is where the action of school occurs. Recognize the nobleness of the teaching profession, and do all that is possible to support their work. "Celebrate success." Over and over again, at every turn, so it becomes a part of the school's culture. I know from experience that this belief system when in place works. Let's hear it for teachers and kids!!

In our district, there is a wealth of good professional development. What is lacking is time for teachers to plan for the assimilation of this training into their daily practice. Teachers need time to plan, collaborate, gather materials, and study data. What planning time is afforded them is filled with paperwork, parental contact, and the training itself. Rarely is time built in for teachers to do the necessary work to successfully plan for the implementation of the new learning in their individualized settings. Despite this fact, most teachers continually work to improve their instructional practices to meet the ever-growing needs of their students. In spite of the fact that many factors involved in learning are out of their control, most teachers work tirelessly to meet students' individual needs.

Paul Hoss made the following comment in a previous response:
"If medical doctors or attorneys attempted to address their clientele the way teachers address theirs, the doctors and attorneys would be out of business by the end of their first week."
In order to make this comparison, we would first have to make it mandatory for doctors and attorneys to treat or represent their cients in groups of twenty-five to thirty-five in the same room at one time instead of individually. After they have done this for seven months, the professionals' effectiveness would then be judged by performing the same tests on all of the patients/clients in the group, the same tests used
for every patient/client in the state. The public would not be informed as to whether or not the patients/clients (or their parents, if they are minors) followed the advice of the professionals, and the professionals would not be allowed to stop treating/representing a patient/client for any reason. Since the professionals' services are provided free to every individual, they must perform this work for a salary that is set by the government, and is among the lowest of all professionals. These professionals are also expected to do their planning and much of their paperwork on their own time. Since funds are short, they are also expected to pay for many of the materials they need out of their own pockets. Oh, one last thing - policies for and judgements about
medical care and legal representation would have to be made by groups of people who often have no current experience with being "in the trenches."
Until all of these factors are equal, it is illogical to compare individualizing classroom instruction to individualizing medical care or legal representation.

Educational effectiveness in the classroom is a result of allowing teachers to do what they do best- teach. No one knows the students abilities, learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses better than the classroom teacher who is with the student every day. I do agree that a critical component of improving the overall success in a school would be to allow teachers time to develop more indepth, individually-based lessons which would require that the teacher be allowed time to develop these lessons individually and with a team. Instead of "teaching to the test" we must remember that standardized tests are designed to indicate minimum standards and that in order to allow students to learn critical thinking skills, we must allow the teachers to teach creatively and individually. We must instill in each student a belief that learning is of individual value and worth and will be a lifelong process. In some states, teachers are often frought with low pay, long hours, and little respect which is indicative of a lack of concern for education as a whole. Teachers need to know that there is a shared vision among teachers, students, administration, and the community that includes respect for the learning process lead by knowledgeable, professional, and capable teachers.
Most importantly, I believe that in order to teach a student you must first reach a student. This is an individual process that can only be acheived by the teacher. Let's let them do what they do best.

How could schools best improve teachers' effectiveness? School administrators must be instructional experts who hold teachers accountable. Professional Learning Communities work--no doubt--for teachers who want to improve their practice. But what about the others, and what about the first-year teachers often given the lowest-performing students?
There need to be "non-negotiables" as part of the supervision and evaluation process. Administrators, who typically are promoted from the teaching ranks, must prove that they can improve student performance in a critical academic area such as reading, writing, or math, before they move from the classroom to administration. Principals must know what instructional strategies positively impact student achievement, and then they must require that teachers use them. Teachers unwilling to change need be sent down the road.
Principals' licensing education seems to focus on legal issues. Because no one can be taken to court for poor instruction, future administrators apparently don't get much training about how to be an instructional leader. Once on the job, they visit teacher classrooms and characterize poor teaching as a "style" issue.
Also, teachers' associations must set the bar higher for their teachers' performance instead of merely defending us from poor working conditions and low salaries.
As a teacher, I can be terminated for physical abuse of a child or for breaking the law--but I can't get fired for refusing to use proven instructional strategies. That's what needs to change.

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Recent Comments

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