Teachers make a difference! Studies have consistently shown that high performance teachers with strong teaching skills produce students with higher achievement levels when compared with low-performing teachers. These studies document not only that the most important factor affecting student learning is the teacher, but that there are wide variations in effectiveness among teachers. The immediate and clear implication of these findings is that more can be done to improve education by improving the effectiveness of teachers than by any other single factor. Effective teachers appear to be effective with students of all achievement levels.
Recognizing that strong teaching skills lead to strong academics, The Pokagon Fund will seek opportunities to help teachers better perform their jobs by providing grants to promote teacher learning and instructional methodology. The Fund will collaborate with the New Buffalo and River Valley School Systems as well as the Berrien Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) to identify key improvement strategies that will meet teacher’s particular needs, including tutoring in math and English, summer literacy programs, professional development and 1-1 computer programs.
In order to improve the effectiveness of teachers, it is necessary to understand the qualities that make an effective teacher. In Linking Teacher Evaluation and Student Learning, Pamela D. Tucker and James H. Stronge delineate a wide range of a teacher’s personal and professional qualities that are associated with increased student achievement, including:
- Have formal teacher preparation training.
- Hold certification of some kind (standard, alternative, or provisional) and are certified within their fields.
- Have taught for at least three years.
- Are caring, fair, and respectful.
- Hold high expectations for themselves and their students.
- Dedicate extra time to instructional preparation and reflection.
- Maximize instructional time via effective classroom management and organization.
- Enhance instruction by varying instructional strategies, activities, and assignments.
- Present content to students in a meaningful way that fosters understanding.
- Monitor students' learning by utilizing pre- and post-assessments, providing timely and informative feedback, and reteaching material to students who did not achieve mastery.
- Demonstrate effectiveness with the full range of student abilities in their classrooms, regardless of the academic diversity of the students. See: www.ascd.org/publications/books/104136/chapters/The-Power-of-an-Effective-Teacher-and-Why-We-Should-Assess-It.aspx
The need to improve instructional practices to achieve such professional excellence was reinforced by a seminal study done by Bill Sanders, formerly at the University of Tennessee's Value-Added Research and Assessment Center, that focused on what happened to students whose teachers produced high achievement results versus those students whose teachers produced low achievement results. Sanders discovered that when children, beginning in 3rd grade, were placed with three high-performing teachers in a row, they scored on average at the 96th percentile on Tennessee's statewide mathematics assessment at the end of 5th grade. When children with comparable achievement histories starting in 3rd grade were placed with three low-performing teachers in a row, their average score on the same mathematics assessment was at the 44th percentile, an enormous 52-percentile point difference for children who presumably had comparable abilities and skills. Sanders, W. L., & Rivers, J. C. (1996). Cumulative and residual effects of teachers on future student academic achievement (Research Progress Report).
A key element in the quest to ensure that teachers have the skills to help all students learn has been teacher evaluations. The Race to the Top grant competition—a federal program that has been funded in the billions of dollars required winners to implement more rigorous standards for teaching and learning and to build teacher-evaluation systems that consider student achievement. Participating states were directed to design and implement an evaluation system for teachers and principals and to indicate how that information would be used to improve educator performance and student learning. These teacher-evaluation systems highlight the need to develop high-quality assistance and processes to ensure the continuous improvement of all educators. As noted by Cynthia G. Brown and Jenny DeMonte in “Improving the Effectiveness of Our Teachers Will Help Student Achievement”,
"The conversation that follows an evaluation should be about professional learning and instructional improvement and directed squarely at improving the quality of teachers' performances in their classroom."
The ultimate goal of The Pokagon Fund’s efforts in this area will be a cooperative undertaking with the New Buffalo and River Valley School Systems as well as the Berrien RESA to provide a means for new and lower achieving teachers to gain the skills that will be reflected in improved classroom instructional techniques and strategies.