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High-Stakes Evaluations and the Teacher Shortage

Professional Growth

No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, the Every Student Succeeds Act — all inspiring names, all painting a picture of education in which each student learns to her full potential. But what happens when well-intended laws yield unintended results? (We’re looking at you, NCLB.)

That’s the question Rick Hess asks in a recent column: “Has Evaluation Reform Chased Away Competent Would-Be Teachers?” Hess digests a recently published paper  — “Teacher Accountability Reforms and the Supply of New Teachers” from Matt Kraft (Brown University), Eric Brunner (University of Connecticut), Shaun Dougherty (also UConn) and David Schwegman (Syracuse University) — which explores the effect that teacher evaluation reforms and changes to teacher tenure have on the teacher labor market.

These evaluation systems almost always contain several common elements, the paper notes: the inclusion of multiple measures such as student growth data, multiple performance rating categories and the use of evaluation results in hiring/firing, salary and other high-stakes personnel decisions.

While advocates of evaluation reform tout the chance to improve teacher quality by making it easier to dismiss low-performing teachers, Kraft and his colleagues specifically focus on how such measures impact the number of new teachers looking for jobs.

“Our analyses also provide a direct empirical test of a key assumption of the teacher quality literature, namely that accountability reforms do not affect the willingness of prospective teachers to enter the teacher labor market. Many prior studies estimate potential learning gains from dismissing low-performing teachers through simulation analyses that rely on the untested assumption that dismissed teachers can always be replaced with average-quality novice teachers.”

Among the report’s findings:

  • By 2016, the available supply of new teachers had dropped by over 20% compared to 2007.
  • States that implemented high-stakes evaluation reforms saw a 15% reduction in teaching licenses issued.
  • States that repealed teacher tenure saw a 16% drop in teaching licenses issued.
  • These declines occurred in areas experiencing a teacher shortage, as well as in those that are not.

It’s worth remembering that numerous factors contribute to the teacher shortage overall. But as to the shrinking supply of new teachers entering the profession, the paper offers several possible reasons for it:

  • Those who enter the teaching profession may place a higher priority on job security.
  • Salaries in teaching are often lower than in other fields with similar risk for unemployment.
  • The reforms may make teaching less desirable by tying job responsibilities to predefined curricula and test preparation.

And, “even if accountability reforms have no direct effect on job protections or satisfaction, they may still affect new labor supply if they affect the perception among potential entrants into the profession that teaching is a less secure or enjoyable career.”

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In his analysis of the report for EdWeek, Hess turns his attention to policy, not school districts. He notes that these evaluation-reform laws aimed to bring more talented teachers into school districts, but they appear to have had the opposite effect:

“Exactly why that occurred is an important question, and one that should remind us, once again, of why we ought to spend a lot more energy examining the dynamics of how system reforms actually play out in early adopters, before rushing to insist that they ‘work’ or to mandate them through policy.”

Read the report: “Teacher Accountability Reforms and the Supply of New Teachers.”

Read Rick Hess’s column: “Has Evaluation Reform Chased Away Competent Would-Be Teachers?”

Want to promote evaluations that are focused on supporting teacher growth? Frontline Professional Growth puts the tools in your hands. (This 2-minute video walks you through it.) It’s part of the Frontline Insights Platform, along with Frontline Recruiting & Hiring — built to help you cast a wide net and quickly identify and hire the best-qualified candidates for your district. Watch the video here.

Ryan Estes

Ryan is managing editor for the global award-winning creative team at Frontline Education. He spends his time writing, podcasting, and creating content for leaders in K-12 education.