Teachers and Leaders

The professional capacity of teachers and school leaders is crucial for strong schools and student learning.  Improving adults’ professional capacity has been a focus of a number of recent policies at the local, state, and federal level, including policies around training, hiring, mentoring, developing, and evaluating teachers and leaders.  The Consortium’s most recent research on teacher evaluation has examined whether observations of teachers and their classrooms provide a reliable and valid measure of their performance; it also examines implementation successes and challenges as the district overhauled its teacher evaluation systems and policies.  Our research has shown that the new REACH evaluation system holds promise because it provides better information to teachers for improving practice, but there continue to be challenges with finding accurate and fair measures for all teachers.

In the area of school leadership,Consortium research has laid a strong foundation for identifying the structures that matter for student achievement through research on the five essential supports for school improvement, and on the mechanisms through which school leaders influence instruction. This has led to questions about the specific ways that school leaders and staff work to improve a school’s organizational capacity, climate, and instruction, particularly in those schools serving students in the areas of most extreme poverty, and where students enter school far behind grade level norms.

Developing an 8/9 Teacher Network.  This project developed a network of eighth-grade and ninth-grade teachers in Chicago Public Schools with the express purpose of helping teachers learn how to promote noncognitive factors in the classroom to support student learning. The 8/9 Teacher Network was an interactive research and development process with Consortium researchers, CPS teachers, and education reformers working together to develop and test various strategies for building noncognitive factors in a classroom context. The project focused on the late middle grades and transition to high school, a critical time period for students to develop the noncognitive factors such as academic behaviors, academic mindsets, and learning strategies that will support them in becoming successful learners who can meet challenging academic demands.  Consortium researchers continue to analyze the data collected from the 8/9 Teacher Network to answer questions that include how do teachers experience their professional environment and professional development and how do teachers see their roles as teachers.

I-Prep.  In June 2010, the Illinois General Assembly passed Public Act 96-0903, a sweeping restructuring of the preparation of school principals and assistant principals that represented 10 years of effort from a broad coalition of stakeholders. The restructuring in Illinois was part of a movement nationwide to provide stronger training for principals in order to better equip them to direct instructional change and lead schools that produce high levels of student achievement. The goals of the Illinois Principal Preparation Implementation Review Project (I-PREP)—a mixed methods study being conducted through a partnership between UChicago Consortium and the Illinois Education Research Council–are to describe how the new policy is being implemented, to learn which aspects of the implementation have been challenging and why they present challenges, and to see how programs are addressing challenges and realizing improvements in the preparation of their candidates. The overall study includes three phases: 1) A statewide scan of early implementation to learn how program representatives and stakeholders view the new policy, to learn what changes they expected to occur with the policy, and to learn what potential barriers they foresee might impede their vision of success; 2) site visits with 12 out of the 26 approved programs and their district partners to gather in depth information about the implementation process, catalysts and challenges to change, and resources needed; and 3) a statewide online survey of preparation programs to determine how well the information gathered from site visits generalizes statewide to all of the 26 programs.

Principal leadership.  Principals have many responsibilities, and could focus their efforts in different ways. UChicago Consortium is examining the ways in which principals have the biggest impact on student achievement in their schools. Having completed some initial studies that use cross-sectional data, we are now examining leadership practices together with change over time in instruction and student achievement in the school.  The study will examine whether different practices are more effective in elementary versus high school.  In addition, we're partnering on a study to measure principal value-added and labor market outcomes.

REACH. Recently-implemented teacher evaluation systems have produced an influx of data and measures on teacher performance. Teachers now receive–often for the first time–specific feedback and detailed evaluation reports on their instruction. It is easy to imagine how these data about teacher performance can be useful–for example, teachers whose evaluations identify areas of weakness can connect with and learn from other teachers who have demonstrated mastery in those areas and principals can use evaluation data to inform staffing decisions. However, the data are only as good as they are used and while there is early evidence that teachers have the potential to improve their instruction under strong evaluation systems, there is little research on how the new information about teacher practice translates into improved instruction across a district. This study aims to fill this void by examining teachers' and principals' use of teacher evaluation data for instructional improvement. Our research questions include understanding how and to what extent teachers and administrators are using teacher evaluation data to improve instructional practice or make career decisions.

Teacher pathways and induction.  Student teaching has long been viewed as a cornerstone of teacher preparation; yet, little is known about how student teaching influences aspiring teachers’ career decisions, employment, and instructional preparedness. Given the vast time and resources they put into designing and facilitating student teaching experiences, teacher educators want to be certain that their investments benefit graduates from their programs. From a school district perspective, understanding how student teaching serves as a talent acquisition pipeline is a concern among schools and districts who regularly provide teacher education programs with mentor teachers and student teaching classrooms for preparing the next generation of teachers. These concerns are particularly pressing in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), where only about one out of five individuals who student teaches in the district is subsequently employed there. The Chicago Teacher Pathways Project seeks to identify those features of student teaching—with a particular focus on placement settings, mentor teachers, and mentoring practices used, that improve prospective teachers’ preparation, application and employment rates, retention, and instructional quality in CPS.  To investigate these matters, principal investigator Dr. Kavita Kapadia Matsko and colleagues from UChicago Consortium, University of Michigan, and Stanford University are following the cohort of approximately 1,800  individuals who will student teach in CPS during the 2014-15 academic year to examine the longitudinal effects of their preparation on their intended and actual career trajectories and instructional quality in local schools. The study  draws upon pre- and post-student teaching surveys, mentor teacher surveys, and extensive district administrative information on teachers and schools, including job applications, employment, and teacher evaluation data.  This project will help district and preparation program stakeholders better understand which features of student teaching—with a particular focus on mentor teachers and placement settings—are predictive of career trajectories and performance. Findings will have implications for how to improve the talent acquisition pipeline in CPS, and teacher preparation experiences, more broadly.

Urban Teacher Education Program (UChicago UTEP) evaluation.  One training program that UChicago Consortium is studying in-depth is the UTEP program at the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute.  UChicago Consortium is providing formative feedback to guide the development of the program by analyzing graduates’ performance and the issues that arise in their training.