What Matters Most in the Classroom

From Suzy Khimm:

Two Harvard researchers looked at the factors that actually improve student achievement and those that don’t. In a new paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Will Dobbie and Roland Freyer analyzed 35 charter schools, which generally have greater flexibility in terms of school structure and strategy. They found that traditionally emphasized factors such as class size made little difference, compared with some new criteria: Darrin Phegley AP

We find that traditionally collected input measures — class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree — are not correlated with school effectiveness. In stark contrast, we show that an index of five policies suggested by over forty years of qualitative research — frequent teacher feedback, the use of data to guide instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations — explains approximately 50 percent of the variation in school effectiveness.

“Data-driven instruction” may be the least familiar policy of the bunch. Dobbie and Fryer explain: “We attempt to understand how schools use data through the frequency of interim assessments, whether teachers meet with a school leader to discuss student data, how often teachers receive reports on student results, and how often data from interim assessments are used to adjust tutoring groups, assign remediation, modify instruction, or create individualized student goals.”


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  • “Data-driven instruction” is ruining my school’s climate. We are now looking at students as numbers, and not whole people. Data only shows a quick glance of one moment in a child’s academic life. Anecdotal records have gone by the wayside.

  • It all depends on how you do data driven. Does data drive the way you teach or does data turn students to numbers.

    My wife is a teacher. She is very data driven. She know exactly where all her students are at all times in a variety of measures. She teaching in small groups to the students exactly where they are. Four students don’t understand how to add two digit number to two digit numbers, she has a short lesson to those four students. No reason to include all the students in the room.

    This requires an enormous amount of data and a tracking system that allows you to see the needs of the exact student.

    Many teachers teach because they love children, not because they are good at analyzing large amounts of data and planning small group lessons. It is hard and it takes a lot of work.

    A lot of people complain about teaching to the test or teaching to standards. But if you don’t have a target then you do not know whether what you are teaching is doing any good.

    My wife has actually left the classroom this year and is now a coach for teachers to help them work on their classroom skills to help them understand how to use data to target their teaching methods.