Once Again, a Call for Major Changes Is Based on Minor (or No) Evidence, NEPC Review Finds

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Scholar examines recent report urging sweeping reforms affecting schools, classes and teachers


The proposal is based on unsupported assumptions, assertions and projections...

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A recent report that calls for an extensive restructuring of schools, classes and teaching positions lacks data to support its premises or evidence to bolster its recommendations, a new review published today concludes.

Patricia Hinchey, an education professor at Penn State University who has written extensively on teaching and teacher assessment, reviewed the report "An Opportunity Culture for All: Making teaching a highly paid, high-impact profession" for the Think Twice think tank review project. The review is published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

An Opportunity Culture for All was published in September 2013 by Public Impact, a consulting firm based in Chapel Hill, N.C., and was written by the organization’s co-directors, Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel. Public Impact in its consulting work promotes school turnarounds, charter schools, and market-based education reforms, and it has published several recent reports advocating the changes outlined in the September report.

The report contends that only one in four teachers is good enough to help close achievement gaps, and that current efforts to recruit and retain excellent teachers are inadequate. The Hassels propose restructuring teaching to create hierarchically organized teaching teams, headed by a small group of relatively highly paid teachers.

This approach does not primarily call for larger class sizes, but it does make teachers accountable for greater numbers of students, Hinchey writes. As she explains, “a teacher might have 10 groups of 25 students and still not have increased class size—at least not what the authors call ‘effective class size,’ or ‘the number of students actually with a teacher at one time.’ While the teachers’ student load is much higher and the teachers are responsible for far more students, the wording and approach allows them the claim of leaving ‘effective class sizes on par or smaller.’”

To make this arrangement feasible, teachers would be assisted by more paraprofessionals and by more digital instruction. Educators would also be expected to work longer hours.

In her review, Hinchey finds the report to lack empirical grounding. Why, for instance, should policymakers trust that paraprofessionals and digital technology can provide instruction comparable to that offered by fully trained teachers? In addition, while the report’s goal is increased teacher excellence, “it offers no specific means of identifying and assessing that quality,” Hinchey writes.

The report’s assumption that 75 percent of current teachers are inadequate is offered with no evidence, Hinchey finds; additionally, she writes, it ignores research indicating that the reliable and comprehensive assessment of teacher quality and its distribution is staggeringly difficult.

Even the report’s implicit argument that teachers alone can close the achievement gap ignores research evidence showing that most of the variance in student outcomes is attributable to factors far outside the classroom, Hinchey points out. And, she writes, the report ignores directly relevant research in topics that include teacher assessment, teacher burnout, and teacher attrition.

“Overall, the proposal is based on unsupported assumptions, assertions and projections—wishes and beliefs that if the approach were put into practice, it would somehow play out to the benefit of students,” Hinchey concludes. “Lacking an empirical base, the report is not a useful guide for policy.”

Find Patricia Hinchey’s review on the NEPC website at:

Find "An Opportunity Culture for All: Making teaching a highly paid, high-impact profession," by Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel, on the web at:

The Think Twice think tank review project (http://thinktankreview.org) of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. The Think Twice think tank review project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. For more information on the NEPC, please visit http://nepc.colorado.edu/.

This review is also found on the GLC website at http://www.greatlakescenter.org/.

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William Mathis

Patricia H. Hinchey

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National Education Policy Center (NEPC)
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