The first time a World Bank education team tried classroom observations in Brazil, it nearly provoked a state-wide teachers’ strike. It was October 2009 in the northeast state of Pernambuco and two members of the team, Barbara Bruns and Madalena Dos Santos, had handed out stopwatches to school supervisors newly trained in using the Stallings “classroom snapshot” method to measure teacher activities.
Two days later, the stopwatches were on the front page of Pernambuco’s leading newspaper: the teachers’ union called for a state-wide strike to protest an evaluation tool they dubbed the “Stalin method.”
“I thought the grant money we had used to train observers was down the drain,” recalled Bruns, a World Bank retiree now a visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development. “But the governor, Eduardo Campos, was unfazed. He publicly declared: ‘No one is going to stop me and my secretariat from going into public schools to figure out how to make them better.’ The union backed down and the fieldwork went ahead.”
Recently, I was part of the Global Economic Symposium held in Rio de Janeiro. This year’s theme was Growth through Education and Innovation; I presented as part of a panel entitled Effective Investments in Education.
My presentation focussed on the fact that a growing and compelling body of research shows that teacher effectiveness varies widely - even across classrooms in the same grade in the same school. Getting assigned to a bad teacher has not only immediate, but also long term, consequences for student learning, college completion and long-term income.
I recently spoke with Barbara Bruns, lead education economist to the LAC region, about an impact evaluation she is managing on teacher performance pay in Pernambuco, Brazil.
Across the world, teacher’s salaries are almost universally determined by educational background, training, or years of experience, rather than performance. Yet a growing body of research shows that these measures are poor proxies for a teacher’s actual effectiveness in the classroom. They show surprisingly little correlation with teachers’ ability to raise their students’ learning.
Many have argued this past week for an increased financial boost to achieve the education Millennium Development Goals -- universal primary completion and gender parity in education. But what should spending focus on, and how can we get the best from both public and private financing?
Not only are we missing the mark in terms of the MDGs for education – currently 69 million children of primary age are out of school, but this is only part of the story. Millions of children drop out early every year, and many of those who do graduate are still not mastering the basic skills in reading and math that are necessary to help them find gainful employment. As we scale up efforts, we must leverage the resources and participation of all, including private and non-state actors, to help reach these goals.
In recent weeks, several articles have appeared in the main U.S. newspapers– including the Washington Post and the New York Times – discussing the potential benefits and pitfalls of the Los Angeles Times’ decision to publish performance data on individual teachers. Together with an economist, LA Times’ reporters used long-existing data on student test scores by teacher over time, to estimate individual teachers’ “value-added”, that is, the change in a student’s test score in the year that they had a specific teacher, attributing this change to the teacher’s effectiveness. They found enormous variation in the change in scores of students of particular teachers, and published the names of some teachers – both the “best” and “worst”. Further, the paper announced that it will soon release the approximate rankings of all individual teachers in LA.
Will public accountability of individual teacher performance contribute to improve education quality in Los Angeles? Is this something that other education systems around the world struggling with finding options to raise teaching quality and student learning outcomes consider?