Eskildson: Scottsdale teacher turnover can be a good thing

Voters recently approved Proposition 123, providing an estimated $300 per student, per year more money to Arizona schools, no strings attached.

Loyd Eskildson

Loyd Eskildson

SUSD’s Board, in an apparently illegal May 20 closed meeting, decided to give 75 percent of the added funds to teachers — with those having more than seven years of experience receiving the biggest chunk.

Since objective research has repeatedly found increased teacher experience beyond the first two to three years does not contribute to pupil achievement, almost all the added SUSD Prop. 123 funding was wasted. Unfortunately, thanks to teacher unions, seniority also plays a dominant role in determining which teachers are targeted for layoffs — this both increases the number of teachers laid off and discourages excellence.

I’ve never heard anyone at SUSD — or elsewhere — disagree with the idea that good teachers can make a large difference on pupil achievement. However, this is not attributable to longterm teacher experience.

Thomas Kane, Walter Gale Professor of Education and professor of economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education summarizes the research linking teacher experience to pupil achievement: “(M)ost of the evidence suggests that teachers largely plateau in their effectiveness after a few years on the job.” Added teacher coursework helps even less.

Supposedly SUSD, and every other public school system, eliminates ineffectual teachers before granting tenure. However, Eric Hanushek, Senior Fellow at Stanford has found that tenured teachers at the 84th performance percentile vs. those at the 16th contribute an additional 1.0 to 1.5 grade level per year to pupil performance and could close the black-white achievement gap within between 3.5 and five years.

Dr. Kane found that L.A. pupils assigned the top quartile of effective teachers gained 4.5 months vs. the median, those assigned teachers in the bottom quartile lost 3.1 months — a 7.6 month gap.

Michelle Rhee introduced a teacher evaluation system (IMPACT) in 2009 D.C. schools that judged teachers partly according to pupil progress on tests. The system was designed by Jason Kamras, previous National Teacher of the Year. It brought higher-than-average turnover to the system — and higher pupil scores.

The departure of low-rated teachers contributed to an additional one-third to two-thirds of a year of learning in math, somewhat less in reading. About 13 percent of high performers left each year, compared to 46 percent of low-performers; meanwhile the system is working to reduce stress caused by IMPACT by cutting back on classroom observations of highly rated teachers and reducing the weight given test scores.

So, what is the problem at SUSD?

Do they not care about pupil achievement and/or growing losses of pupils to charters and other alternatives? Are they simply too lazy to or incapable of undertaking the work entailed in implementing objective teacher evaluations, as outlined by Professor Kane and others? How long will you tolerate this education malpractice?

Editor’s note: Mr. Eskildson is a Scottsdale resident

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