by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Misconceptions and unsubstantiated claims abound in News & Observer columnist Rob Christensen’s latest offering, “Teacher aides in limbo again.”
First, Christensen mentions former governor Jim Hunt’s efforts to raise reading achievement by hiring thousands of reading aids. He writes,
Two years later, in his 1979 State of the State address, Hunt would declare: “I am proud that our Primary Reading Program is underway and that last year, for the first time, our first- and second-graders scored at or above the national average in reading and math.”
There is little evidence that the inclusion of teacher aids produced gains in student achievement. Indeed, fluctuations in test scores on math and reading assessments, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), appear to be unrelated to the number of teacher assistants employed in our public schools.
Similarly, Christensen claims,
The teacher pipeline is drying up because of poor pay, working conditions, the end of tenure and so forth.
Again, there is no empirical evidence that fewer college-bound students in North Carolina choose to major in education because of “poor pay, working conditions, the end of tenure and so forth.” Rather, the nation’s education school enrollment has been on the decline, even in states with ridiculous pay, lifetime employment, and so forth (e.g. Massachusetts and California).
Finally, Christensen cites teacher assistant studies conducted by the “Dublin-based Institute of Education” but fails to acknowledge stateside research using data from Project STAR, the famous Tennessee class size reduction initiative. In a study published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, researchers Susan B. Gerber, Jeremy D. Finn, Charles M. Achilles, and Jayne Boyd-Zaharias concluded, “The results showed that teacher aides have little, if any, positive effect on students’ academic achievement.”
Of course, the “Dublin-based Institute of Education” makes the kind of rhetorical jab that readers have come to expect from the “old guard” at the News & Observer.