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MAVUTO KALULU: Lower the screen

Don’t cut effective teachers by Mavuto Kalulu Special to the Democrat-Gazette | December 3, 2015 at 2:53 a.m.

The 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores were recently released and the results are dismal for the nation as a whole. The results are even worse for Arkansas, which scored below the national average in both fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics and reading. Who will shoulder most of the blame for this poor performance?

Unfortunately, teachers may take that blame. There are many good teachers who do a tremendous job to educate children. These good teachers need to be rewarded, not punished.

How do states determine teaching effectiveness? They require teachers to pass a qualifying exam--Praxis I and/ or Praxis II--to obtain a teaching license. The rationale here is that licensing screens out ineffective teachers.

But teaching is doing. The relationship between test-taking and educating children is small. Teachers need to know the material, know how to show the material, and have all of those soft skills that allow them to sense when the classroom's attention span is at its limit.

In a forthcoming study for the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics (ACRE), James Shuls, an education policy analyst at the University of Missouri, addresses whether students in classes with teachers who score higher on standardized tests perform better than students in classes with teachers who score lower on the test. The study finds no significant difference between those teachers that pass the exam and those that fail Praxis I exams with regards to teaching effectiveness.

One conclusion that can be drawn from the result is that Praxis I exams are screening out potentially high-quality teachers in Arkansas.

Consider a recent case in Alabama. Ann Marie Corgill, the 2014 Alabama elementary school Teacher of the Year, and a finalist for the National Teacher of the Year award, was stopped from teaching fifth-graders because she has no license to do so. Both the Birmingham and Alabama administrators deemed her not qualified to teach above third grade.

What option did she have? Pay more fees and take more tests. What did she decide to do? Resign.

Her resignation is a huge loss to the state, the school and most especially for the fifth-grade students who will no longer learn from an effective teacher with 21 years of teaching experience.

Screening out effective teachers through licensing may be taking place in Arkansas public school system. In a recent visit to KIPP Delta schools in Helena, I learned how hard it is to get traditionally licensed teachers to teach in Helena. KIPP has relied heavily on Teach for America and, interestingly, these teachers have performed better than traditional public schools while serving economically disadvantaged students. Public schools may be missing out on quality teachers by requiring stricter licensing.

Arkansans would be happy if in 2017 the NAEP scores are above the national average. By reducing the hassles teachers have to go through in order to get a teaching license, Arkansas will be able to recruit effective teachers that can help improve the education performance of the children.

There is no denying that some of the teachers recruited this way will not be as effective as others, but we should not screen out effective teachers who will improve the students' performance. Rather than dismiss this argument, consider a solution that Shuls offers: Remove the ineffective teachers from classrooms rather than preventing potentially effective teachers from entering the classroom through licensing.

It may be a politically less popular solution, but if we are serious about improving Arkansas education outcomes, it is worth trying. Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and an expert on education policy, estimates that the difference between an effective teacher and an ineffective one can be as much as a year's worth of learning.

Arkansas children deserve quality education and cannot afford to lose a year of learning from an ineffective teacher.


Mavuto Kalulu is a research associate at the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics (ACRE) at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

Editorial on 12/03/2015

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