national newsletter

What happens when teacher ratings go public

Welcome to Chalkbeat’s national newsletter! Sarah Darville, Matt Barnum and intern Amanda Zhou here, working to help you make sense of efforts to improve education for poor students across the country. Did someone forward this to you? You can sign up here.


The big story

Remember when the Los Angeles Times released ratings of public school teachers based on their students’ test score data?

It was a highly controversial move, but one endorsed by then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the height of a nationwide push to toughen teacher evaluations. That energy has all but vanished in the eight years since. But we took a look back at the Times’ data dump because new research has provided fresh insights on the consequences.

One new study found that the publication of the scores helped the academically rich get even richer. Already high-achieving students were assigned to the classrooms of higher-rated teachers the next year. That could be because affluent or well-connected parents were able to pull strings to get their kids assigned to those top teachers.

But another study shows more positive consequences: Los Angeles teachers’ performance, as measured by test scores, improved after their scores were published.

Together, the results offer a new way of understanding a significant moment in the national debate over how to improve education, when bad teachers were seen as the central problem and more rigorous evaluations as a key solution.

“You shine a light on people who are underperforming and the hope is they improve,” said Jonah Rockoff, a professor at Columbia University. “But when you increase transparency, you may actually exacerbate inequality.”

Here’s the full story.


Chalkbeat news

Our national team is growing! We’re thrilled to have Francisco Vara-Orta joining us next month to help expand our coverage. Follow him here if you don’t already. And don’t miss his just-published investigation of hate in schools at Education Week.


Local stories to watch

  • Students with disabilities have been getting shortchanged in Denver. A state investigation found that decisions about providing paraprofessionals were delayed and mismanaged, and some parents say it harmed their children.
  • A proposed police reform agreement in Chicago would affect its schools. The plan, which is open for public comment, recommends keeping school resource officers out of school discipline, discouraging the use of tasers, and looking for officers without records of misconduct.
  • Big payments to districts operating virtual schools are under scrutiny in Indiana. One example: Daleville Public Schools, a rural district that got $1 million from the state to oversee an online school, raising questions about its ability to hold that school accountable.
  • Tennessee’s big-city superintendents declare “no confidence” in its tests. The system is a large piece of the outgoing governor’s education legacy

Matt and Amanda’s research round-up

  • Spending spring break in school can make an academic difference. It’s the latest research pointing to the benefits of intensive small-group tutoring, this time in a Massachusetts city working to turn around its schools. But the Springfield program wasn’t open to all, which might complicate the decision for other districts considering the approach. Here’s more.
  • There’s a lot we don’t know about Advanced Placement classes. A new, comprehensive review of research points out we don’t know whether they actually prepare students for college. And as the program expanded rapidly, the racial disparities in pass rates have largely stayed the same — raising a big question about whether students take a class but fail the exam are really benefiting.

Names to note

Karl Dean and Bill Lee will face off to be Tennessee’s next governor; here’s where they stand on education issues. In Michigan, it will be Bill Schuette versus Gretchen Whitmer, and you can compare their views on education here.

Arne Duncan is out with a new book. Ed Week, Politico, and The 74 have highlights, and the Atlantic has an interview with the former education secretary. Conor Williams, Rick Hess, and Chalkbeat’s own Cassie Walker Burke have reviews.

Dan French is Vermont’s new education secretary.

Lee Harris, a Democrat, is Memphis’ next mayor. He told Chalkbeat he’s going to get to work on universal pre-K.

Hal Heiner is the new chair of Kentucky’s board of education. He was the education cabinet secretary for Gov. Matt Bevin, who recently shook up up the entire board.

Shavar Jeffries, the president of Democrats for Education Reform, has joined the board of New Classrooms, the personalized learning nonprofit, along with Paul Massey.

Hydra Mendoza is New York City’s deputy chancellor of community empowerment, partnerships, and communications, a new role.

New Schools for Chicago, which was part of the Education Cities network of groups, has renamed itself Kids First Chicago.


DeVos watch

The latest on the federal school-safety commission: Yesterday, it held its third listening session in Cheyenne, Wyoming, though DeVos didn’t attend. In Arkansas, last week, a superintendent explained to commission members why he carries a gun.

Other perspectives on guns appear less welcome: the L.A. Times reported Tuesday that a professor set to testify before the commission was told by an education department adviser to not mention gun control.

School diversity: Twenty-one Democratic senators criticized the Department of Education’s decision to rescind Obama-era guidance on how to increase racial diversity in schools.

The shape of the bureaucracy: The future of the federal office devoted to English learners is unclear reports Ed Week. After murky communications with the education department, some advocates fear the office will get folded into the office for elementary and secondary education without congressional oversight.


What we’re reading

  • Boston’s moves to re-prioritize neighborhood schools mean its schools are resegregating. Boston Globe
  • Democrats For Education Reform plans to spend $4 million this year on favored candidates in races across the country. Politico
  • New Mexico’s state education department hasn’t produced a required annual accounting of charter schools’ performance since 2013. Albuquerque Journal
  • Norfolk schools stopped keeping struggling students out of classes ahead of key tests. Pass rates fell. The Virginian-Pilot
  • A proposal to rename a Robert E. Lee High School in Texas failed this week. Tyler Morning Telegraph
  • As the Los Angeles teachers unions makes moves toward a strike, Superintendent Austin Beutner offers his take on the district’s financial issues. LA School Report
  • Law professor Michael Rebell is planning a lawsuit in federal court claiming civics education is constitutionally inadequate. Fordham Institute
  • A widely criticized for-profit charter operator, White Hat in Ohio, is out of the schooling business. Akron Beacon-Journal
  • Some companies, including the College Board, are selling high school students’ educational data. New York Times
  • Why education is a key issue in the Wisconsin governor’s race. The Atlantic

(Photo by Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)