Teaching moment: Identify and keep your best principals, teachers, expert says

By Rob Nikolewski on July 18, 2013
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New Mexico has to do a better job of educating its children. Few New Mexicans would argue that point. How to get there, however, is a matter for debate.

Thursday, one of the most influential committees in the Roundhouse heard from a national expert, who emphasized the importance of keeping good principals in schools and effective teachers in the classroom.

“Fixing our schools is the most important thing for our country to do,” said , who focuses educational policy and the at the at Stanford University.

FINDING THE KEYS: A Stanford University and Hoover Institution education expert says finding and keeping high-performing teachers and school principals is essential for high performance.

Hanushek told members of the that high-quality principals have a profound impact because “they affect every kid in the school, not just the kids in the classroom” and because they find ways to hold on to their school’s best teachers.

Citing studies showing the impact of effective teachers compared to average or low-performing teachers, Hanushek pointed to ., showing the best teachers supply their students with a 1 1/2 years of learning in one school year while the worst deliver just a half-year of learning in the same amount of time.

“Simply put, no amount of altered curriculum, of smaller classes, of support staff will have much impact without effective teachers in the classroom,” Hanushek said.

But one of the tricky questions is how to keep good principals and teachers in place while weeding out the bad ones.

Hanushek believes in evaluation systems and insists that money does has little to do with investment and performance.

“It depends more on how the money is spent than how much is spent,” Hanushek said.

“We seldom use the evaluations to determine rewards or to make decisions about retention and continuation of personnel,” Hanushek said.

To turn around under-performing schools, Hanushek offered a four-point wish list:

*Developing an effective accountability system

*More choice of schools for parents, allowing them an option to move their kids if they’re unhappy

*Performance-related rewards within the system for the best teachers and principals

*Early childhood education for disadvantaged students, although Hanushek said there’s little evidence that early childhood programs help kids who well-off economically

Hanushek received polite challenges from a couple of Democrats on the committee.

Sen. , D-Silver City, said that given New Mexico’s high rate of poverty, the state’s No. 45 ranking in the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, New Mexico isn’t so bad. “That tells us the educators are defying the odds,” he said.

And Rep. , D-Albuquerque, pointed to Finland, which finished first in an international ranking of education standards, although it doesn’t use merit pay or standardized testing. “I don’t think giving a teacher a grade is gong to get them to teach better,” she said.

“I’m a little skeptical that we can dramatically change most teachers’ performance among those who are low-performing,” said Hanushek, who also emphasized tying evaluation systems to personnel decisions.

“As a result, we have little influence over the principals and teachers, and salaries tend to be unrelated to performance,” Hanushek said. “Schools will not improve if we continue in this manner.”


After the committee hearing, New Mexico Watchdog talked to Dr. Hanushek on camera:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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