Research has consistently shown that an effective teacher has the greatest single impact on student achievement inside a school. But how to determine what an effective teacher is and even what impact an effective principal has on his or her faculty has been less clear. The good news is these questions are being increasingly addressed in federal and local policy and practice, and was the focus of a Monday morning session at the Federal Relations Network (FRN) Conference.
Over the last decade, what most people have considered a highly qualified teacher is someone who possesses strong credentials, is highly motivated and passionate about teaching, and cares about their students, said Jim Hull, senior policy analyst for NSBA’s Center for Public Education.
But that view has shifted as research and proposed federal legislation call for more rigor and quantitative data to measure teacher effectiveness. The House, for instance, has introduced a bill that would eliminate the provision under the No Child Left Behind Act that identifies teachers with bachelor’s degrees, state certifications, and subject matter knowledge as highly qualified, in favor of programs to develop teacher evaluation systems that would presumably rely on student achievement data like test scores to demonstrate teacher effectiveness.
“It’s going from quality to effectiveness and looking at the impact teachers have on students,” Hull said.
The problem is most states haven’t yet developed systems to quantitatively identify what an effective teacher looks like. Many of the original indicators, such as experience, teaching training, and cognitive skills, still have relevance, Hull said. But research has shown it’s the combination of these factors that is most likely to lead to teaching effectiveness and not any one in isolation. Research literature, for instance, is pretty clear that an advanced degree, in and of itself, does improve teacher efficacy — especially if the degree is not related to the subject matter taught.
“The most common advanced degree among teachers is in school administration … but there is no evidence that it improves their teaching or the performance of students,” Hull said.
And while teachers have been proven to have a tremendous impact on student success, research is just emerging that shows principals also play an important role.
“Researchers and policy makers have only recently begun to focus on [principals] and have found principals are second only to teachers in having an impact in school,” Hull said. “So what impact do principals have on student achievement? Quite a bit.”
But that impact varies between schools, with evidence suggesting that principals have the greatest impact in the most challenging schools.
“Unfortunately what we see is principal turnover at these challenging schools is twice as high then in less challenging schools,” Hull said. “We really need to find a way to keep our best principals in our most challenging schools.”