E.D. Hirsch on Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed

by Robert Pondiscio
September 26th, 2012

Core Knowledge founder E.D. Hirsch Jr.’s has a review of Paul Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed, in the upcoming issue of Education Next. It is reprinted here with their permission.

Primer on Success
Character and knowledge make the difference
By E. D. Hirsch Jr.

Paul Tough follows his excellent book about Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone with one on improving the school achievement and life chances of disadvantaged children. The title is How Children Succeed, and the chapter heads continue the how-to motif of the title: 1. How to Fail (and How Not To). 2. How to Build Character. 3. How to Think. 4. How to Succeed. 5. A Better Path. If the book really delivered on these headings, Tough would deserve immense success. I hope the book does sell well, though perhaps not too well. Its ultimate message is that “non-cognitive” abilities and traits are more important to success than mere academic achievement, and that message, while containing important truths, is overstated.

Tough gathers scientific results and personal observations from a number of estimable sources among researchers and practitioners, all supporting the idea that what really determines success is character and perseverance rather than raw intelligence and book learning. At the same time, he shows that what truly handicaps a child is horrible early upbringing and neglect. The term of art for the permanent psychic damage done is ACE: Adverse Childhood Experiences. This, by now well-attested finding is the best argument for the intrusion of outsiders into the homes of neglectful or cruel caregivers, and it is the best explanation for the observation that poverty accompanies lower achievement all over the world. This poverty argument (it’s not Tough’s) is also oversimplified, since, as the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) reports show, some parts of the world diminish the poverty-achievement correlation far more than the U.S., through better schooling.

What connects the ACE segment of the book (“How to Fail”) with more positive themes is the common “non-cognitive” feature. “How to Build Character” takes off from the successful KIPP schools and their emphasis on good manners and perseverance. The chapter goes on to show that a certain kind of test requiring no academic knowledge, only a willingness to persist in a boring task, is, other things equal, highly predictive of later success. “How to Think” focuses on how middle-school chess players from a low-income school manage consistently to beat advantaged students and even high-school chess teams. Focus and practice are the keys. In other words, perseverance and hard work are “how to think.” And “How to Succeed”? Also perseverance and hard work.

No one would or should dispute the importance of diligence and perseverance. Classic texts on education such as Plato’s Republic and Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education emphasize that character development and virtue are far more important educational goals than mere acquisition of knowledge. At the same time, those writers are quite explicit in setting forth the breadth of knowledge children need to acquire. If Tough had updated that “both/and” tradition with the latest reports from the field, he would have no argument from me. But he takes the view that an emphasis on knowledge acquisition, which he calls “the cognitive hypothesis,” has been tried and it has failed. Here is what he has to say in his introduction:

In the past decade, and especially in the past few years, a disparate congregation of economists, educators, psychologists and neuroscientists have begun to produce evidence that call into question many of the assumptions behind the cognitive hypothesis. What matters most in a child’s development, they say, is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years. What matters instead is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as non-cognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us sometimes think of them as character.

I sympathize with Tough’s judgment that “the cognitive hypothesis” (in his view of it) has failed. During the era of No Child Left Behind very little progress has been made in narrowing the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Yet it is hard to argue from recent reform efforts that the aim has been to increase the “information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years.” On the contrary, “mere information” has been disparaged in favor of how-to strategies and test-taking skills. What Tough calls “the cognitive hypothesis” with regard to academics might better be called the “how-to hypothesis,” paralleling his own how-to approach with regard to character. He does not cite the work of Jerome Kagan and others showing that many fundamental character traits tend to be innate and unchanging.

Moreover, there is strong evidence that increasing the general knowledge and vocabulary of a child before age six is the single highest correlate with later success. Tough alludes to the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) studies, which show that a young adolescent’s score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) is the best single predictor of later income. The AFQT is a math and verbal test. It is scored by doubling the verbal component before computing the overall raw score. This verbal component, largely a vocabulary test, is an index to general knowledge. General knowledge is also the best single predictor of later academic achievement among preschoolers and kindergartners, as has been shown by analyses of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey–Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K1992), which has followed the life paths of some 2,700 children over the past decade. After general knowledge, the next best predictor is fine-motor skill, which is correlated with the development of “executive function,” a cognitive ability. In third place come the non-cognitive features that Tough emphasizes in his book.

The critical missing element in Tough’s otherwise informative book is the phrase “other things equal.” He effectively shows that people who have more grit, character, and persistence will succeed better than those who have less, other things equal. Those other things are determined chiefly, though not exclusively, by “how much information we can stuff” into a child’s mind in the early years; a more neutral way of stating it is: “how much general knowledge and vocabulary we can impart in the early years.” The disparaging phrase “stuffing” is tendentious and inaccurate. Knowledge-based schooling is far more interesting to a child than how-to schooling, and far more effective.

There is a moment in Tough’s account when, good reporter that he is, he seems to acknowledge this fundamental qualification of his argument. He describes James, a middle schooler who by grit, brains, expert coaching, and intense focus has turned himself into a national-master chess player at age 12. Yet there’s a twist. James is preparing for an academic test that will determine whether he will be admitted to one of the selective high schools of New York City. He is being tutored intensively, by Ms. Spiegel, his chess coach:

In the middle of July, though, Spiegel told me she was starting to get discouraged. She was working hard with James on the test, and he was applying himself even on hot summer days, but she was daunted by how much he did not know. He couldn’t locate Africa or Asia on a map. He couldn’t name a single European country. When they did reading comprehension drills, he didn’t recognize words like infant, and communal, and beneficial…. “I feel angry on his behalf,” she told me. “He knows basic functions, but he doesn’t know geometry, he doesn’t get the idea of writing an equation. He’s at the level I would have been at in second or third grade.”

Tough ends the account on an upbeat note: “He’s only twelve, after all.” But this optimism is misplaced. Given the “Matthew Effect” (where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer) and the slowness of vocabulary acquisition, James has been disadvantaged permanently, just as if he had been the victim of ACE.

Report: U.S. Needs More “Exam Schools”

by Robert Pondiscio
July 31st, 2012

If selective admissions high schools, such as New York City’s Stuyvesant High School, Boston Latin, and Thomas Jefferson in Fairfax County, Virginia are “hothouses for incubating a disproportionate share of tomorrow’s leaders in science, technology, entrepreneurship, and other sectors that bear on society’s long-term prosperity and well-being,  say Checker Finn and Jessica Hockett in a report in Education Next.  “We’d be better off as a country if we had more of them.”

Such schools, the pair say are a “unique and little-understood sector of the education landscape.”  As a group, the schools are “more racially diverse than is widely believed.”  Most of such schools’ teachers belong to unions and are paid accordingly.  Not surprisingly, nearly all of the 165 selective schools identified and surveyed by Finn and Hockett offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses or the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.  “With rare exceptions (mainly in Louisiana), however, the schools are not charters,” they report.  “Although they’re ‘schools of choice,’ they are operated in more top-down fashion by districts, states, or sometimes universities rather than as freestanding and self-propelled institutions under their states’ charter laws.”

Yes, but are they any good?  By admitting high achieving students, exam schools are front loading high performance. Finn and Hockett are clear-eyed:  “Much like private schools, which are more apt to trade on their reputations and college-placement records than on hard evidence of what students learn in their classrooms, the schools on our list generally don’t know—in any rigorous, formal sense—how much their students learn or how much difference the school itself makes,” they write. “As one puzzled principal put it, ‘Do the kids do well because of us or in spite of us? We’re not sure.’”

The research base on selective schools’ performance is surprisingly thin (the report cites two studies).  Finn and Hockett note “the burden is shifting to the schools and their supporters to measure and make public whatever academic benefit they do bestow on their students versus what similar young people learn in other settings.”  But the “marketplace signals” are clear. “Far more youngsters want to attend these schools than they can accommodate,” the pair report.  Moreover, selective schools provide an essential and largely overlooked function:

“It’s evident from multiple studies that our K–12 education system overall is doing a mediocre job of serving its ‘gifted and talented’ youngsters and is paying too little attention to creating appealing and viable opportunities for advanced learning. What policymakers have seen as more urgent needs (for basic literacy, adequate teachers, sufficient skills to earn a living, for example) have generally prevailed. The argument for across-the-board talent development has been trumped by ‘closing the achievement gap’ and focusing on test scores at the low end.”

“A major push to strengthen the cultivation of future leaders is overdue, and any such push should include careful attention to the ‘whole school’ model,” conclude Finn and Hockett

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

by Robert Pondiscio
May 7th, 2012

“As a policy wonk, I push for high academic expectations for all students,” writes Scott Joftus in Education Next. “As a father, however, I find that what matters most to me is that my daughters are happy in school.”

“Over more than 20 years in the field of education—including two with Teach For America—I have helped promote state standards, the Common Core, the hiring of teachers with strong content knowledge, longer class periods for math and reading, and extra support for struggling students, to name a few. I have recently discovered, however, that what I believe as an education policy wonk is not always what I believe as a father.”

Joftus’s wonk side believes “student learning flourishes in classrooms that include students with a wide range of abilities and backgrounds.”  However, as a Dad, he admits to getting angry when a troubled kindergartener disrupts his daughter’s class and forces the “talented, but inexperienced” teacher to spend more than half of her time trying to keep this boy on task.

“I feel for children like him; my company works with schools and districts to improve outcomes for these kids. But I was angry. The other children were clearly uncomfortable. His disruptions reduced learning time for my daughter, and seemed to steal some of her innocence and excitement about school.”

Commenters on the Ed Next blog offer both praise and criticism for Joftus.  “Teachers have been fighting policy wonks who have been destroying the happy learning environment for decades,” writes one.  “But you don’t listen, it is only when it becomes personal that you reconsider your opinions and admit the possibility that teachers have been right all along.”  “Had you guys listened twenty years ago, and respected our wisdom on safe and orderly schools, this educational civil war would not have had to happen,” observes veteran teacher and ed blogger John Thompson.

Rocketship schools CEO John Danner admits to similar cognitive dissonance when sending his kids to school.  “However, I would challenge you as your kids grow to think more about how those skills jibe with rigor,” he writes. “Rigor is actually a form of compassion. A teacher who expects a lot of their students prevents them from feeling the frustration your children feel now, but much later in their school career.  The real problem you are seeing is that your child’s teacher has high expectations but doesn’t understand how to differentiate.

Loftus’ tale serves to illustrate how regrettably wide the gulf can be between policy ideals and classroom realities.  The policies Loftus has worked to support–standards, improved teacher quality, enhanced learning time for strugglers, et al. –  are laudable, but risk melting into insignificance in the face of teachers overwhelmed with a critical mass of disruptive children in her room.  I don’t have any data on this, but I suspect that far fewer parents than wonks tend to lay the problem of learning time lost to disruption at the feet of teachers.  It is easy to say, as Danner does “differentiate.”  It is difficult, and always will be, to expect every teacher in every classroom to have the training, expertise and experience to handle every challenge offered up by 25 free agents in their classrooms every day.

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Data-Driven…Off a Cliff

by Robert Pondiscio
October 20th, 2010

Miami English teacher Roxanna Elden makes a compelling case for how “data-driven instruction” can be misleading and self-defeating.  Writing at Education Next, Elden describes a nonfiction passage about owls on a practice test for the state’s FCAT test: Which of the owls’ names is the most misleading? Is it the screech owl “because its call rarely approximates a screech?” Or is it the long-eared owl, “because its real ears are behind its eyes and covered by feathers?”

Each question on the practice test supposedly corresponds to a specific reading skill or benchmark. “Teachers are supposed to discuss test results in afterschool ‘data chats’ and then review weak skills in class,” Elden writes.  Like so:

First Teacher: Well, it looks like my students need some extra work on benchmark LA.910.6.2.2: The student will organize, synthesize, analyze, and evaluate the validity and reliability of information from multiple sources (including primary and secondary sources) to draw conclusions using a variety of techniques, and correctly use standardized citations.

Second Teacher: Mine, too! Now let’s work as a team to help students better understand this benchmark in time for next month’s assessment.

Third Teacher: I am glad we are having this “chat.”

Forget for a moment that people only speak like this after they fall asleep next to a pod.   Here’s how Elden’s actual “data chat” went:

First Teacher: My students’ lowest area was supposedly synthesizing information, but that benchmark was only tested by two questions. One was the last question on the test, and a lot of my students didn’t have time to finish. The other question was that one about the screech owl having the misleading name, and I thought it was kind of confusing.

Second Teacher: We read that question in class and most of my students didn’t know what approximates meant, so it really became more of a vocabulary question.

Third Teacher: Wait … I thought the long-eared owl was the one with the misleading name.

Language arts teachers, Elden points out, “know that answering comprehension questions correctly does not rest on just one benchmark.”  That may work for math, but, she correctly observes, “reading is different.”

“After students have mastered basics like decoding, reading cannot be taught through repeated practice of isolated skills. Students must understand enough of a passage to utilize all the intricately linked skills that together comprise comprehension. The owl question, for example, tests skills not learned from isolated reading practice but from processing information on the varying characteristics of animal species. (The correct answer, by the way, is the screech owl.)”

Data-driven instruction says teach the skill?  Well, data-driven instruction is wrong.  Reading is not a transferable skill with components that can be separated like an egg yolk from the egg white. Comprehension is a function of interwoven skill, prior knowledge and vocabulary.   Expecting teachers to tease out a specific skill from the question Elden cites is like asking them to separate the yolk from a scrambled egg.

“Unfortunately, strict adherence to data-driven instruction can lead schools to push aside science and social studies to drill students on isolated reading benchmarks. Compare and contrast, for example, is covered year after year in creative lessons using Venn diagrams. The rersult is students who can produce Venn diagrams comparing cans of soda, and act out Venn diagrams with Hula–hoops, but are still lost a few paragraphs into a passage about owls. When they do poorly on reading assessments, we pull them again from subjects that give them content knowledge for more review of Venn diagrams. Many students learn to associate reading with failure and boredom.”

The expectation that teachers should use data in a way that belies what we know about reading is a prime example of what Rick Hess called The New Stupid – “a reflexive and unsophisticated reliance on a few simple metrics.”

“It’s impossible to teach kids to read well while denying them the knowledge they need to make sense of complex material,” Elden concludes “Following the data often forces teachers to do just that.”

Best Ed Books of the Decade

by Robert Pondiscio
August 31st, 2010

Education Next has a terrific poll, sure to be hotly contested, on the best education book of the past decade.  E.D. Hirsch’s The Knowledge Deficit is among the41 finalists.  So is Dan Willingham’s Why Student’s Don’t Like School. 

Other great choices made by Ed Next’s editors:  Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System; Richard Kahlenberg’s Albert Shaker bio, Tough Liberal; Tested by Linda Perlstein; Daniel Koretz’s Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us; Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough; and David Whitman’s Sweating the Small Stuff.

Great books, difficult choice: the poll lets you pick three favorites

Vox Populi

by Robert Pondiscio
August 25th, 2010

The 4th annual Education Next poll shows a sharp divide between teachers and the general public on merit pay, teacher tenure, Race to the Top, and a host of other hot-button education issues.  The poll, which was conducted by researchers at Harvard shows

“most Americans support merit pay for teachers, while teachers oppose the policy by a large margin; there is strong opposition among the public to teacher tenure, while teachers favor it; and teachers are significantly more opposed to the federal RttT program than the broader public.”

No surprises here.  Teacher tenure will never make sense to those who don’t enjoy that kind of job security.  And merit pay will always have an intuitive appeal.  Who can begrudge the standouts in any field deserve more. 

Here’s a poll question I’d like to see asked: 

In general, do you feel your child’s teachers spend too much time, too little time, or the right amount of time preparing students for standardized state tests?

Or this one:

Please indicate whether you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree or strongly agree with the following statement: my child’s school places too much emphasis on standardized tests.

Just a hunch, but I suspect a majority of Americans would express reservations about the amount of test prep their children endure–at least those with kids in the prime testing grades 3 through 8–and the degree to which testing dominates elementary education.  If so, this might skewer Ed Next’s finding that “support for ‘basing a teacher’s salary, in part, on his or her students’ academic progress on state tests’ jumped five percentage points in one year, increasing from 44 percent in 2007 to 49 percent in 2010. 

Another figure that jumped out at me:  everyone “knows” that teachers are the weakest link in the chain and that attacking teacher unions is a political winner.  Maybe not.   More people believe teacher unions are “blocking school reform rather than helping it,” but the margin is slim, 33 to 28 percent.  “But 39 percent take no position at all,” says Ed Next.

Other interesting data points in the Ed Next poll:

  • Growing support for online schooling.  The percentage of Americans in favor of allowing high school students to take a course on the Internet increased from 42 percent to 52 percent in the last year. 
  • Support for charter schools “remained essentially unchanged between 2008 and 2010—rising from 42 percent to 44 percent, while opposition increased from just 16 to 19 percent.”
  • While 45 percent of the American public supported vouchers in 2007, only 31 percent did so in 2010. 

 “When it comes to school choice, charters and learning on the Internet are ‘in,’ while vouchers are ‘out,’” notes Harvard’s Paul E. Peterson, the editor-in-chief of Education Next.

My humble request for my friends at Ed Next.  How about a few questions next year on curriculum?  It would be intriguing to learn what Americans think about the content of their children’s education and how they feel it compares to their own.

Tinkering Toward Edutopia

by Robert Pondiscio
May 13th, 2010

Your humble blogger has a piece in the upcoming issue of Education Next looking at Edutopia, the George Lucas Educational Foundation’s effort to “spread the word about ideal, interactive learning environments and enable others to adapt these successes locally.”  The piece is on EdNext’s website, along with a blog post about it.

Edutopia confidently bills itself as “What Works in Public Education” but substantiating that claim, not surprisingly, is a tall order.  The Edutopian ideal owes a lot to Dewey, and the degree to which you’re a fan of  the “21st century skills” movement is the degree to which you’ll feel comfortable with the Edutopian vision, which tilts heavily toward project-based learning and technology.

One big question that remains unanswered in my mind after working on the piece is the degree to which Edutopia and its six “core principles” are the brainchild of George Lucas himself, and how he got interested in education in the first place. By most accounts, Lucas was an indifferent daydreamer of a student, and an unlikely education philanthropist.  If he was ill-served by his own public school education, it doesn’t seem to have hurt his prospects very much.  Still, once GLEF started raising its profile, I wondered if Lucas was bidding to counterbalance the muscular accountability-and-structures ideas backed by his fellow billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad with the ultra-progressive, teacher-friendly Edutopia.  The short answer is no, Edutopia has a very different mission.  Unlike Gates and Broad, Lucas and Edutopia are not policy-driven, and they don’t give out grants to spread (or enforce) their agenda.   It’s essentially a nonprofit media company that covers education.  “Working for a filmmaker, we make films,” says executive director Milton Chen. “And we surround those films with other kinds of information that can support learning about how these innovative classrooms came to be.”

One Bad Apple

by Robert Pondiscio
May 12th, 2009

bad-apple Children from troubled families perform “considerably worse” on standardized reading and mathematics tests and are much more likely to commit disciplinary infractions and be suspended than other students, according to a new study.  Writing in Education Next, Scott Carrell of UC-Davis and the University of Pittsburgh’s Mark Hoekstra offer evidence that  “a single disruptive student can indeed influence the academic progress made by an entire classroom of students.”

Carrell and Hoekstra, who are both economists, examined confidential student data from Florida’s Alachua County school district, consisting of observations of students in grades 3 through 5 over an eight-year period. The pair also had access to disciplinary records for every student in their sample, which they cross-referenced to domestic violence data from public records.  What emerged was a compelling set of data that indicates children exposed to domestic violence have more disciplinary problems at school, underperform academically and have a negative effect on peers–resulting in lower test scores and increased disciplinary problems in others.  In essence,  a ”one bad apple” syndrome.  Carrell and Hoekstra title their piece “Domino Effect.”

“A majority of parents and school officials believe that children who are troubled, whatever the cause, not only demonstrate poor academic performance and inappropriate behavior in school, but also adversely affect the learning opportunities for other children in the classroom,”  observe Carrell and Hoekstra.  The pair cite a Public Agenda survey which found that 85 percent of teachers and 73 percent of parents agreed that the “school experience of most students suffers at the expense of a few chronic offenders.”  The study largely validates those concerns. 

Our findings have important implications for both education and social policy. First, they provide strong evidence of the validity of the “bad apple” peer effects model, which hypothesizes that a single disruptive student can negatively affect the outcomes for all other students in the classroom. Second, our results suggest that policies that change a child’s exposure to classmates from troubled families will have important consequences for his educational outcomes. Finally, our results provide a more complete accounting of the social cost of family conflict. Any policies or interventions that help improve the family environment of the most troubled students may have larger benefits than previously anticipated.

Poll teachers in struggling schools, and I will wager a substantial amount that classroom disruption is identified consistently as the primary barrier to student achievement.  Yet it is consistently glossed over or dismissed, typically attributed to a teacher’s lack of classroom management skills.  I have long believed that the time on-task lost to disruption and behavior problems is almost certainly one of the under-discussed root causes of the achievement gap.  This study does a great service by confirming what many teachers and parents have intuited for years: disruption matters and has a negative effect on all students.

School and classroom tone matter enormously–perhaps more than any other factor.  Get it right and everything seems to work.  Get it wrong and nothing does.  This study holds out the promise of sparking a very important discussion about the rights of the individual in the classroom versus the rights of the community.  It’s long overdue. 

(Image via Digital Eargasm)

Who’s Bigger?

by Robert Pondiscio
November 20th, 2008

Fordham’s Mike Petrilli is showing us no love. 

Mike has a piece about edublogs in the new Education Next.  It’s good; you should read it.  But in a table of the top education policy blogs, the Core Knowledge blog is conspicuously absent.  And it’s not like we wouldn’t have made the Top Ten, based on Mike’s methodology, Technorati’s “authority ranking” — the number of blogs linking to a particular blog in the past 180 days. 

Here’s how the edublogs in my bookmark list stack up based on Technorati’s authority rankings:

Joanne Jacobs  217
Eduwonkette  167
Eduwonk  146
Campaign K-12  125
The Education Wonks  119
Flypaper  95
Jay P. Greene  93
The Quick and the Ed  87
Matthew K. Tabor  85
Core Knowledge 84
This Week in Education  79
Edwize  74
Intercepts  69
Schools Matter  68
Bridging Differences 66
D-Ed Reckoning 56
Edspresso  46
NCLB Act II  40
Sherman Dorn 39
Eduflack 29
Swift and Change Able 27
Thoughts on Education Policy 25

Note, this list excludes pure teacher blogs, even though some of them do veer off (how could they not?) into policy from time to time.  Petrilli’s piece, meanwhile, heaps well-earned praise on Eduwonkette, who came out of nowhere in the past year to (by Mike’s Top Ten list) become the Top Wonk.

The story of Eduwonkette is particularly illuminating; she was recently revealed to be Jennifer Jennings, a graduate student in sociology at Columbia University. Rather than merely toiling away in the vineyards of the American Educational Research Association, writing papers for fellow academics, she recently overtook Eduwonk as the top education policy blogger, even though her competitor is a former Clinton White House aide and cofounder of a major Washington education think tank. It’s clichéd to say that the Internet evens the playing field and makes the traditional trappings of power and influence obsolete, but so it is.

Mike is also dead-on in noting the absence of an authoritative parenting blog.  “There’s no significant parent voice in the national online conversation,” he writes, “just as there’s no national parent advocacy group in Washington. That’s a real shame; someone should blog about it.”

Scrapping the Sacrosanct Salary Schedule

by Robert Pondiscio
September 13th, 2008

If you want to keep and retain talented new teachers, pay new teachers more and stop paying them to bulk up on credentials that don’t improve student outcomes.  That way teachers “will be rewarded for the strong improvement they make early in their career,” writes Duke University economist Jacob Vigdor in the fall
issue of Education Next

The connection between credentials and teaching effectiveness is very weak at best, and the connection between additional years of experience and teaching effectiveness, while substantial in the first few years in the classroom, attenuates over time. Though exact results vary from one study to the next, there is little doubt that credentials and additional years of experience (beyond the first few years) matter far less to teacher effectiveness than they do to teacher compensation as it is currently designed.

Read Vigdor’s piece, but also read the reaction to it from Bill Ferriter, a 6th grade teacher who blogs at The Tempered Radical. He agrees with Vigdor, even though he benefits from the existing schedule.  “My master’s degree means little to me today, and yet I’ll be rewarded for it for the next fifteen years that I spend in a classroom,” he writes.  Still, Ferriter takes issue with some of the obvious flaws in Vigdor’s plans like basing all increases in compensation on increased scores on standardized tests. 

What we’ll never go for, though, are proposals that fail to take into account consequences for the curriculum when standardized testing is placed at the center of efforts to evaluate teachers—and it’s important to know that our opposition doesn’t stem from a fear of being held accountable for results. Instead, it stems an intimate understanding of what such systems will do to the children who sit in our classrooms. 

Smart stuff from a thoughtful teacher.