Teacher improvement is possible

In a comprehensive article titled “Building a Better Teacher”, Slate writer Ray Fisman lays out the benefits of helping teachers improve, rather than firing them, when they are underperforming.

Ways to measure and improve teacher performance have been controversial, but proof shows that neither training credentials and certifications, a degree in education, nor higher salaries contribute to a teacher’s “value-added” score. However, a study of Cincinnati Public Schools Teacher Evaluation System, shows that consistent, detailed peer reviews by master teachers can dramatically improve teacher performance–even in teachers whose value-added is much lower than their peers’. Despite its success, this type of evaluation is not being used to its full potential, according to researchers who studied the system, because it is mostly used in remediation or dismissals instead of as part of an arsenal of teaching improvement tools.

Implementing some social psychology has been shown to help motivate both teachers and students. For teachers, a field study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found using a technique called loss-aversion helped increase student scores across the board. In the study, teachers were given a bonus at the beginning of the school year and told that if their students don’t meet expected scores by the end of the year teachers may be required to give some of the bonus back. Most of the teachers in the study improved their students’ scores that year. For motivating students, studies suggest providing “wise feedback”. This is feedback that tells a student the teacher is giving criticism because she expects the student is capable of improving, not because the student’s work is bad.

Read the full article on Slate.

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