Jonathan Cetel is the founding executive director of PennCAN. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

PennCAN is proud to share our September research roundup! Every month we gather the latest national education research and explain what it means for Pennsylvania’s students and schools. To receive PennCAN’s monthly research roundup, sign up here.


1. 2012 Closing the Expectations Gap: 50-State Progress Report on the Alignment of K-12 Policies and Practice with the Demands of College and Careers
Achieve American Diploma Project, September 2012


Recognizing that too many students graduate from high school without the skills they need to succeed in college or a career, all 50 states have adopted college and career readiness standards, with 46 having chosen to adopt the Common Core. This report reviews the progress each state is making toward implementing these new standards, reporting on what states say they’re doing now and their plans for introducing new, standards-aligned tests in the future. The report also stresses the importance of tying these standards to high school graduation requirements and poses key questions states should consider during the implementation process. 


Pennsylvania is slated to fully implement the Common Core State Standards for all grade levels by 2013-14. To help with the transition, the state has developed materials for educators and provided guidelines for schools that want to develop materials themselves. It has also tailored state exams to fit the Common Core, removing irrelevant parts of the tests, adding non-multiple choice sections and raising the bar for proficiency. For these efforts to pay off, it will also take the support of state leaders, legislators, the state education agency, school districts, school leaders, teachers and parents.


2. The Sheepskin Effect and Student Achievement: De-emphasizing the Role of Master’s Degrees in Teacher Compensation
Raegen Miller and Marguerite Roza, Center for American Progress, July 2012


Does a master’s degree make for a better teacher? Not necessarily, says this report by the Center for American Progress.  Teachers who receive a “master’s bump,” or salary bonus for having a master’s, are on average no more effective than teachers without such degrees, the authors find. Yet schools across the country are using more and more resources to finance these master’s bumps: in the 2007-08 school year, schools spent $14.8 billion, a 72 percent increase from 2003-04. This money, the authors argue, would be better spent on bonuses based on student learning. At a time when purse strings are tight, schools can’t afford to spend money on things that have little effect on their teachers or the students they teach.


Pennsylvania does not currently compensate teachers for excellence in the classroom. Instead, our state focuses on measures that aren’t necessarily correlated with increased student learning, such as additional education. This past spring, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a law to reform how our teachers are evaluated. Before this bill was passed, there was no fair way to change the way we compensate our teachers. But, when this new evaluation system is formally unveiled at the beginning of next school year, Pennsylvania will have the opportunity to compensate teachers for the things that matter: student’s academic achievement.

3. Recent State Action on Teacher Effectiveness: What’s in State Laws and Regulations?
Sara Mead, Bellwether Education Partners, August 2012


Teacher effectiveness has been a popular item on state legislative agendas in recent years, with 21 states having overhauled their teacher evaluation systems since 2010. This report grades these new laws and regulations, finding that all have improved the quality of the feedback teachers receive:
– Every state requires teacher evaluations that incorporate evidence of student learning.
– 14 require those evaluations to be annual for teachers and principals alike.

Unfortunately, however, most of the new laws do little to encourage districts to use the new and improved evaluations to make sure every classroom has an excellent teacher:
– Many states still don’t specify the extent to which teacher effectiveness should play a role in tenure decisions. 
– Only 10 states specifically require districts to make teacher effectiveness a factor when deciding which teachers to lay off.
– Most states aren’t using their teacher evaluation systems to hold teacher preparation programs accountable.


Although Pennsylvania recently passed a bill which reforms how teacher performance is assessed, the data collected cannot be used to make tenure or layoff decisions. And as a result, our school districts are unable to use their resources and reward teachers for excellent work.



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