Improving Teacher Quality. "We know teachers matter, and they matter a lot," Russ Whitehurst commented last spring in a talk to the American Educational Research Association. But, he said, there are many things we don't know, or that we're just beginning to understand — or that we understand but haven't translated from theory to practice. What are the characteristics of effective teachers? How do we develop better predictors of effective teaching? How can we help less effective teachers emulate more successful ones? Will incentives like pay bonuses lead to better teaching? To answer these and other key questions, IES undertakes a variety of activities across the Institute, all with the ultimate goal of improving teaching and student outcomes.
NCER's Teacher Quality Research program supports research in the teaching of reading, writing, math, and science. The goal is to identify and evaluate strategies for preparing future teachers or improving the performance of working teachers. Studies are underway at California State University at Long Beach, the State University of New York at Albany, and the University of California, Berkeley, among other research centers.
Another grant from NCER has helped researchers from Florida State University and the University of Michigan develop a software program that uses students' reading scores at the beginning of the year to develop an instructional profile of the type, duration, and timing of instruction that is recommended for each child and assigns children with similar profiles to reading groups for instruction. The idea is that teachers can apply the recommended profile to the reading curriculum provided by their school in order to plan instructional activities for each reading group.
In addition, the national research and development centers, administered through NCER, are actively involved in research related to teachers and teaching. One of the newest, the National Center on Performance Incentives, was established last year at Vanderbilt University to conduct scientific studies on the effects of performance incentives in education. The center is currently conducting a randomized field trial in which student achievement-related bonuses are being offered to teachers in Nashville public schools.
NCES, meanwhile, has been able to provide insight into teacher attrition and mobility through its Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). The SASS 2004-05 Teacher Follow-Up Survey looked at the "stayers" and "leavers" among the 3.2 million U.S. public school teachers in 2003-04. Fifty-five percent of public school teachers who left teaching after that year but continued to work in the field reported that they had more control over their own work, while 65 percent of public school "leavers" who took jobs outside the field felt that their workload was more manageable and that they were better able to balance their private and working lives.
NCEE is conducting national evaluations of teacher preparation, induction and professional development. For example, NCEE is evaluating the impact of different levels of intensity and content of teacher preparation offered by traditional and alternative routes to certification, as well as assessing the preparation of new teachers in scientifically based reading programs.
NCEE is also evaluating the impact of two high-intensity teacher induction programs on teacher retention, teacher practices and student achievement in elementary schools. Studies to improve the teaching of math in middle school and the teaching of early reading in elementary school are also underway.
The Regional Educational Laboratory Program, administered by NCEE, has a number of Fast Response Projects devoted to teacher quality issues. The reports from these projects comprise the ongoing Issues & Answers series, and include recent publications such as Analysis of Title IIB Mathematics and Science Partnerships in the Northwest Region, and "Coach" can mean many things: five categories of literacy coaches in Reading First. The RELs have other rigorous studies underway involving teachers and teaching.
At NCSER, grants are funding several projects aimed at improving teacher quality. One project at the University of Kansas aims to develop and evaluate a teacher coaching model for improving instruction of middle school students. At the University of Florida, researchers are designing an intervention model for special education reading teachers in the upper elementary grades that involves a group approach to professional development combined with follow-up coaching. The goal is to improve word study and fluency instruction.