President Obama's campaign talked about education and the reality that America will need two million or so new teachers during the coming decade. This means that public education will get substantial stage time over the next few years.
"The country needs a massive education overhaul, and better teachers will be the most important element in that overhaul. Spending more and attracting able teachers is the best way to use resources to improve the human capital of our children and the future of our nation." (Glaeser, Boston Globe)We must find, train and retain the best teachers because the strongest correlation to student success is- as best as we can tell- is quality of teacher:
"The clearest result from decades of education research is the importance of teacher quality. My colleague Tom Kane finds that students who are lucky enough to get a teacher in the top quarter of the teacher-quality distribution jump 10 percentile points in the student achievement distribution relative to children who end up with less able teachers. Improving teacher quality has about twice the impact on student outcomes as radically reducing class size." (Glaeser, Boston Globe)Suddenly, in my reading the topic, pops up everywhere. Each article comes out the same research with each author adding a perspective or twist:
Most Likely to Succeed
Want better schools? Hire better teachers
Recruiting, retraining a new type of teacher
Summarized, there is no way to identify good teachers as they graduate from colleges and enter the classroom. Certification and an imprimatur from an ed school bears no relationship to a teachers quality and effectiveness.
"The real variance was within the programs: each trained some stellar teachers, each trained some duds. A teacher's abilities, or lack thereof, become clear only over time. Thus, Kane argued, tenure review should begin only after the district has enough data to tell whether a novice teacher could ever become an old pro. Kane wouldn't remove the certification barrier entirely, he says, but he does advocate "moving the dam downstream, to where we actually have some information." (Harvard Magazine, Studying Schooling)The best way to identify good teachers seems to be to apply the methods that the corporate sector uses. Hire larger classes of new hires- even those with degrees in subject matter as opposed to just education; train them; provide feedback and support; develop clear performance measures; promote, advance and pay the successful teachers letting the less successful go or remain in reduced roles- just like the private sector.
Teachers working with students is more valuable and important to professional advancement than a diploma or certification.
Gladwell's New Yorker article is the most readable and fun on the subject. I most enjoyed the analogy that likens finding a good teacher to finding a good NFL quarterback. Everybody looks good coming out college and entering the profession. But only the job itself can find and separate those who excel at it from those who will only be good, or, wash out of the profession all together. College is a training ground providing only minimal insight into real world success.
Of course the NFL benefits from having plenty of money to finance developing and putting its talent pool through the learning period.
I love the idea of bringing the best and the brightest into teaching and having them work like hell to become great teachers. Then, I take a deep breath and say "damn, we've got long way to go; how can we pay for this?"
In my experience, the world has a very small supply of adults who find school age children interesting enough to spend the whole day with; there just doesn't seem to be a deep resevior of adults who want to work with children. Two, teaching is a low status profession and this cultural position is very difficult to overcome. Increased teacher pay could help by- at the minimum- demonstrating that teaching is a valued, important, fundamental piece of our society.
And, third, the concept of tenure. In private schools, I never worked under a tenure system. And, bluntly, the whole concept of tenure for a school teacher strikes me as odd. As I understand it, tenure exists at the collegiate level to protect academic freedom keeping professors (with terminal degrees) from having to shape their research and publications to the desires of their department or school. Other than freedom from parental pressure, I don't understand the role of tenure in public school setting.
Finally and most importantly, if we want to demonstrate the value of great teachers by making them well-paid professionals, where will the money come from?
These are some heady hopes and dreams to pin on the Obama administration as they come to power short on cash.