June 20, 2006

Looking for Good Teachers

When Mark Warner gave the key note speech at Yearly Kos, one of the policies he talked about was making our schools work better. What he told us about was shaping policy to have some of the best teachers teach the underserved population so that the kids that need the extra help actually get that help. This has long been one of my thoughts about how to make sure kids get a strong hand up so that they can be responsible and successful citizens. Here is a website that shows what Mark Warner was doing to make this policy real in Virginia.

Well, now we have a study that shows this policy makes a big difference. Last Friday in Altercation, Eric's slacker Friday correspondent, Stupid, pointed to a study about how good teachers make a tremendous difference to the success of a child in school.

The high quality teachers (defined by ACT scores, college selectivity, knowledge test scores and experience) **doubled** the number of students in impoverished schools who passed their state’s basic skills tests. "The research shows that kids who have two, three, four strong teachers in a row will eventually excel, no matter what their background, while kids who have even two weak teachers in a row will never recover" concluded the group's president, Kati Haycock. This is consistent with results when kids from failing schools are allowed to transfer to good schools: they make quantum gains despite the burden of longer commutes.

Of course, one of the problems to make this work is getting very good teachers to teach in impoverished schools. This news release talks about how this problem can be overcome.

The Ed Trust report recommends a range of strategies to end the unfair distribution of teacher talent, including:

  • Scaling back prerogatives that allow experienced teachers to pick their assignments.
  • Providing salary incentives to attract high-quality, experienced principals to work in schools that serve high concentrations of poor and minority students and linking their pay to improved conditions and improved achievement.
  • Identifying effective teachers and paying them more to teach in schools with shortages.
  • Taking a cue from professional sports and start using a “draft strategy,” which would put high-poverty, struggling schools at the head of the hiring line, allowing them to have the first pick of teaching talent.
  • Giving teachers who work in the poorest communities fully paid sabbaticals.
  • Reserving tenure for those teachers who demonstrate effectiveness at producing student learning.
  • Banning unfair budgeting practices that allow the most advantaged schools to “buy” more than their share of the most highly paid teachers.

Clearly when we ask that people should be responsible for themselves and their children, we must admit that it is much more likely that this will happen if children are given all the help they need so that when they are adults they have the tools and the skills to be successful.

Here's the study: Teaching Inequality: How Poor and Minority Students Are Shortchanged on Teacher Quality (pdf)

Posted by Mary at June 20, 2006 12:13 AM | Education | Technorati links |

I know this won't be a popular idea, but I think teachers should be civil servants who are assigned to where there is the most need.

Posted by: Susie from Philly at June 20, 2006 06:57 AM

Susie from Philly--
You'd need to build it so that the teachers were not shuffled off to new schools from year to year. It takes a while to settle into a school and community, and having to move often would add a big stressor to the job. There are benefits to staying at one school for a while--you become a familiar face, and past students can come back to you for support and to show off achievement, and, in the case of high school, asking for letters of recommendation. The continuity pays off. Plus, you get a chance to network to bring outside opportunities and supplies into the classroom.
In general I think the incentives method is more likely to be effective at installing good teachers than the forced-relocation method. Allowing choice also gives new teachers a chance to give to their community, which may have prompted their career choice by having lousy schools, or that one good teacher that inspired them.

Posted by: tjewell at June 20, 2006 09:09 AM

Thanks for that - I very nearly quoted that letter from Stupid myself, but I felt it deserved more time than I had to write about it. The trouble with actually doing something about this issue is that the conservatives always want to use it to be able to eliminate all tenure, making it way too easy to fire teachers not for lack of merit but for political incorrectness - which, in reality, means failing to kneel to conservative doctrine.

You can understand why teachers would not be hungry to embrace this, particularly now.

For that matter, I'm not terribly anxious to embrace any new legislation as long as I know it can be twisted in committee to do something quite the reverse of what was intended.

Posted by: Avedon at June 23, 2006 05:11 AM

Excellent post.

I do think though that teachers have gotten a bum rap. Of course the more high quality teachers the better, but I do think that a major reason that the US is trailing so many other countries in educational attainment is
because the U.S. leads the world in TV watching (especially by children).

* * *

According to a national Kaiser Family Foundation survey young people are watching nearly 4 hrs per day of TV and videos.


* * *

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend no TV for those under two, and less than two hours for children older than two.

"...a new study that highlights the immense disconnect between what child-development specialists advise and what parents allow."


* * *

"No matter what your intelligence or social background, watching a lot of television during childhood means you are a lot less likely to have a degree by your mid-twenties,
according to new University of Otago research."


* * *

"Third graders with a bedroom television scored significantly lower on the Stanford Achievement Test than those without..."


* * *

But what about educational TV? TV is an effective means of passive learning. Unfortunately TV (educational or not)
associates a very rewarding experience with no effort. Before TV there was no equivalent experience other than day dreaming.
So kids get used to learning and being rewarded with no effort on their part. Then when it's time to start school, learning takes effort and is quite boring compared to TV.

Well, why not just have the kids go to school and learn from educational TV? Education is about more than just info aquisition,
it's also about learning skills, such as reading, writing, math, etc. And learning skills takes an effort. After hours of effortless
learning (and being rewarded) kids are that much less motivated to make that effort. And that's something that makes life much harder for our nation's teachers.


* * *



Posted by: Terry at June 24, 2006 02:05 PM

Great comment, Terry. Thanks for posting these thoughts and links. Have you ever read Jerry Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television?

Avedon, I also agree that whatever this gang in power would back would be even worse than the problem they are supposedly fixing. We need a new government before trying to fix this mess.

In a saner world, we could make strides on really providing quality education to all our children without destroying the concept of tenture, and public education.

Posted by: Mary at June 24, 2006 03:03 PM

Hi Mary, thank you very much.

I did read "Four Arguments for the
Elimination of Television" and thought
it was great, especially since it seems
to be one of the first books (if not
the very first book) to argue that it
is TV the medium, not just the message
that is the problem.

Of all the anti-tv books I've read,
my favorites are:

- The Plug-In Drug : Television, Computers,
and Family Life by Marie Winn

- Amusing Ourselves to Death
by Neil Postman

- Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam


Posted by: Terry at June 26, 2006 01:12 AM

Teachers here in Japan are civil service and do move every few years from school to school. Also, teachers don't stick with one grade level. My second son's first grade teacher (last year) is the third grade teacher this year. Two years previous she taught fifth grade. My oldest is in fourth grade. His teacher transferred in from another school where he was the fifth and sixth grade teacher. (In some school teachers will carry a class for two grades). Our principal who came last year used to be principal for a junior high in another city.

Teachers are provided assignments through the prefecture's educational bureau (loosely translated). I think that if you are settled, ie bought a home, have a family, they try to keep your commute within a certain distance though don't hold me to that.

I found it odd at first, but there's something to be said about injecting new blood into a school. While I support tenure in the US, I think more needs to be done to support teachers and schools and remember that the focus must be on how best to educate our children.

I'll be honest, my fourth grader who is studying for entrance tests for junior high here, (a downside of being in Japan) handles math problems some of which I never saw until middle school or later, and others that I simply never saw. And many of them I can't answer. (But I was near the top of my class in HS and have an MBA from a top twenty university. My husband who is Japanese liked to say the math on the GMAT was a joke that any elementary school kid could do. I didn't believe him. Now I do.) The US has got its work cut out for it if it wants to catch up in the maths and sciences.

Posted by: pat in Tokyo at June 28, 2006 06:05 AM

pat, thanks so much for your perspective. I've been very impressed with some of the work Japan has done in regards to schools. I think that in the early years they are much more pragmatic than we are and much more interested in educating everyone (making public schools work - but partly because they are more homogeneous and do feel like they are in it together). Japan has always been seen as being too rigid and too hierarchical and authoritarian which has caused Japanese students to be too dependent on rote learning, and not creative enough - but I suspect as we screw up our schools further (test test test) and teach children to hate intellectual rigor (and critical thinking), American children will be less able to keep up - it's like a conspiracy to dumb down our kids (through the test test test method) so they can't compete effectively. Someday if we are realy lucky, we might, just might, decide that we can really help everyone in our country become well-educated people, responsible citizens and people that are able to be critical thinkers. Then I think we'd have a real chance to fight the most critical and moral problem we face: global warming.

Posted by: Mary at June 29, 2006 11:37 PM