Improving teacher effectiveness is job one says Deborah Gist, Rhode Island’s controversial education commissioner, in a CommonWealth interview.
. . . in everything that I have experienced, both as a teacher and in my role as an administrator, and in everything I’ve read about the research about student achievement, the quality of the classroom teacher is the most important factor. It’s the greatest lever that we have to be able to improve the quality of education of our students.
Firing the staff at Central Falls High — no more than half will be rehired — was necessary, Gist argues. The school was on improvement lists for eight years. “Tinkering around the edges” didn’t work.
Failing school require a culture change, Gist says.
Many teachers begin to believe that because their students come from difficult circumstances or have challenges in their lives, they can’t achieve at higher levels. Just that shift in the thinking means that the expectations are lowered.
She talked to a young college student who lived in a group home in high school and used her problems to get special treatment from teachers.
She says [that], looking back, she really wishes that her teacher had said, with as much love and support as possible, “Look, I want to make sure you have all the supports that you need, but here’s what you need to do, and here’s when you need to do it, and here’s the quality that I expect.” Because now she’s in college, and she’s struggling. That was a clear example of the way in which the love that teachers have for our students can sometimes cause us to lower our expectations. It’s not enough to care.
Gist has made the Time 100 list for 2010 under “thinkers.”