Lots happening on the stimulus bill. Senators are split on some provisions including education and behind the scenes this is where a lot of the anti-No Child advocacy is starting to boomerang. Turns out that “it sucks, fund it” isn’t such a great message after all. Who knew? Anyway, Senator Ben Nelson (NB) has emerged as the Dem lever on this but aren’t two Dem senators whose views – given their backgrounds – really deserve some weight on the education pieces Mark Warner (VA) and Michael Bennet (CO)? It also appears that given the dynamics when it comes to schools there is a non-trivial chance that this could end with the most reformist pieces of the bill on the cutting room floor and the least reformist skating through.
There is also some back and forth about various pieces of language on different issues. One hot one is the language on teacher quality where there are differences between the House bill, the Senate bill, and what various interest groups want. Guestbloggers David Coleman, Jason Zimba, and Doug Staiger weigh-in on that controversy with the guest post below:
Based on our backgrounds in education research and policy, we were surprised to see the New York Times’s recent endorsement of teacher qualifications over teacher effectiveness. Commenting on the House and Senate stimulus language, the New York Times editorial page wrote on Wednesday:
“The Bush administration failed to enforce a crucial provision of No Child Left Behind that requires states to finally give poor and minority schools a fair share of experienced, qualified teachers. The House version of the stimulus bill requires states that get the new money to comply with the law. If the Senate fails to embrace this provision, it would be selling out impoverished children.”
This has the ring of civil rights and common sense. But it is actually the Senate language, not the House language, that focuses on what matters most to outcomes for poor children: the presence of an effective teacher. The House language insists, along the lines of NCLB, that poor children receive an experienced, qualified teacher. The Senate language instead says that states should use the funds to “increase the number, and improve the distribution of effective teachers.”
So the question is: which matters more for poor kids – the experience and qualifications of teachers or their demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom. On this matter, the research is overwhelming. The observed impact of an effective teacher is at least 5-10 times greater than the impact of qualifications or experience. Based on research from the past 30 years, there is no more urgent cause in education than increasing the concentration of effective teachers teaching poor children.
Ironically, while the House bill neglects demonstrated performance in distributing teacher talent, it also provides states with funding for data systems that will help us better gauge teacher effectiveness. The Senate bill, on the other hand, rightly highlights effectiveness, but does not fund the data systems required for such a measure.
Closing the achievement gap will require a new paradigm. We need to focus on demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom if we are going to transform the trajectories of poor children.
When the bills do go to conference we hope that Congress uses the Senate language on effectiveness and funds the requisite data systems to monitor student learning and growth (using the House language).
Guestbloggers David Coleman and Jason Zimba are the founders of Student Achievement Partners. Doug Staiger is John French Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College and Zimba is a faculty member at the Center for Public Action at Bennington College.