Recruiting and training good teachers

We know teacher education needs radical changes, writes Deborah Loewenberg Ball in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Let’s do it.

First, let’s agree that teaching is about more than just being smart and knowing a subject, that it requires a set of skills that prospective teachers must be taught and should demonstrate before they take over a classroom. . . .

Second, let’s identify the set of skills that are fundamental to safe and responsible teaching. These should not be pedagogical generalities, such as “knowing learners” or “classroom management,” but specific, crucial skills, like being able to explain fractions in several different ways, or to gain and maintain the attention of a class, or to accurately and fluently diagnose specific student confusions. These should be the compact list of teaching practices that put children at risk when teachers cannot do them well enough. The work on this is well under way; the University of Michigan will have a draft of a score of such high-leverage practices available within a few months.

Many teachers and ed writers blogged about last week’s conference on recruiting and training good teachers organized by Carnegie and the Education Writers Association, including Manderson’s Bubble, EDLeaderNews, The Jose Vilson, Outside the Cave and Ed Beat.

Effective teachers know their students, wrote TeacherKen, who has more here.

Teach to the dreams, wrote TeacherManDC in his conference post.

Ms. No Neck will never be America’s Next Top Model if she cannot answer questions from Tyra Banks using proper English.   Mr. Pretty Boy will never hurdle his way into the Olympics if he continues to dodge whatever emotional challenges confront him.  The characters and ideas we encounter in literature and essays will help Ms. Bag Lady discard personal weight she should never have had to bear.  Crisp, succinct writing (and thinking) will assist Mr. Detective as he seeks to unravel, decipher, and defuse the turbulent racial history he inherited.

The fact that they know I expect each of them to pass the AP English Language exam in May is part of it, but not most of it.  The most-of-it part is that they expect it too.  I did not give them that; it was there all along.  Like the teachers I met on Friday, and the ones with which I share a  building, I just help them find the courage to dream the dream out loud–and then claim it.

Ariel Sacks suggested an excellent story idea for education writers:  Does innovative teaching lead to better test scores? There’s no need to teach to the test, one presenter argued. Teach well and students will test well.

Let’s hear from innovative teachers who see big gains in their students’ test scores but do not seem to “teach to the test”.  What populations do they work with?  What type of schools do they work in?  What do they focus their curriculum on, and to what do they attribute the success of their students on the test?  Are there things these teachers think are important to teach, but leave out, because they aren’t tested skills or content?  Where do “soft” skills like collaboration, self-reflection, creativity, and empathy figure into their classrooms and curriculum?

Let’s also hear from teachers who refuse to teach to the test and who may not see huge gains on test scores, but who have been deemed excellent, innovative teachers by other measures, such as National Board Certification, feedback by their colleagues, school leaders, students and parents.  What is their rationale for the choices they make regarding curriculum and teaching style?  What growth do they see in their students, and why don’t they think it’s being measured accurately or at all or by the standardized test?

A testing expert once told me that research had found that time spent teaching to the test is wasted. When teachers spend more time teaching writing, their students’ scores improve in both English Language Arts and math. Why would it help in math? Writing improves logic and thinking skills, he said.

Update: EWA reports on the conference on EdBeat.

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  1. We know teacher education needs radical changes,

    We do? Sez who?

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    Good point, Cal. Student learning is at such a high level, and keeps getting better each year. Why would anyone think there’s anything wrong with teacher education?

  3. Um, anyone who thinks the proper rebuttal to my observation is “kids aren’t learning, why would we think anything is wrong with teacher education?” needs to go back to stats 101 before they engage in the debate. Talk about embarrassing yourself.

    Anyone who thinks I am arguing that teacher education is excellent is not paying attention.

    So if you are at the point of understanding that “student learning is largely orthogonal to teacher ed” then hi!

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    If “student learning is largely orthogonal to teacher ed” (i.e., student learning has pretty much no relation to teacher ed), then one obvious recommendation would be, “get rid of teacher ed.”

    That seems pretty radical to me.

  5. It’s not a radical change to teacher education.

    Besides, while it might be one possible recommendation, it’s by no means axiomatic that “no impact” means “get rid of”. For example, there probably isn’t a huge correlation between legal outcomes and legal education, but no one would seriously argue that we should just do away with law school.

  6. Roger Sweeny says:

    If legal education doesn’t affect the chances that a lawyer will lose a case or counsel a client the wrong way, then damn right we should do away with law school.

  7. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I’m with Roger on this. If education doesn’t have any practical effect, then there’s no point in it other than credential-based protectionism, and I’m generally against that, ceteris paribus.

    And there is a fair-to-middlin’ correlation between legal education and legal outcomes, once you control for facts. (Facts are overwhelmingly, by a massive margin, the dominant factor in determining legal outcomes.) It’s not merely for brochure-value that the biggest, most expensive firms with the best records recruit from only the top schools.

    I should caveat that, though, by noting that what I say is limited primarily to civil practice; criminal practice is a different ball game and one on which I’m not really qualified to speak.

  8. Actually, I have read several recent articles suggesting the abolition of the law-school requirement for those wishing to take the bar exam and others recommending serious overhaul of the law school curriculum. The latter specifically argued the need for a return to serious work on agency and trust and the elimination of racial/ethnic/gender/social justice etc. classes.

  9. You keep on shifting the ground.

    The original claim was that teacher education must be changed radically.

    You first asserted that poor results meant that it must be the teacher’s fault, but you backed off that (or appear to).

    I said that student learning is largely orthogonal to teacher ed. You then argued that doing away with teacher ed is a radical change.

    Except, of course, saying that students results are orthogonal to teacher education says nothing about doing away with education, and when I give a counter example (lawyers), you come up with yet another shift.

    If legal education doesn’t affect the chances that a lawyer will lose a case or counsel a client the wrong way

    I said there isn’t a “huge correlation between legal outcomes and legal education” and you (and others) translate that to mean the difference in legal outcomes when the representative has a “lawyer” who never went to law school vs. one who did? You couldn’t think of any other obvious interpretation, given the matter at hand?

    Okay, I’ll spell it out: the TYPE of legal education one receives, based on the school, does not show to dramatically affect outcomes. Just as we are talking about the TYPE of teacher education, and how that’s not the same as doing away with it entirely.

    There’s a great deal of evidence that trained teacher (regardless of method) do better than untrained teachers (and TFA counts as training). Take someone off the street and put them in a classroom and they won’t do well. Now, you may want to argue that any person with subject matter competency can be a perfectly adequate teacher, but thus far the data doesn’t support you.

    I don’t disagree with that, but it’s not the point at hand.

    So again, here’s my point: the author asserted that “We know that teacher education needs radical changes.”

    I said that this is an unsupported assertion, as there is no data showing that teacher education is at fault for whatever we declare is ailing the educational system (assuming anything is).

    A responsive comment would claim that teacher ed in all its wide varieties is, in fact, responsible for outcomes–and then hard proof that those outcomes could be improved by different teacher education. None of which is possible.

  10. Well, I know for darn sure that the recruiting end has taken a big hit this week.

    Teacher ed probably needs moderate change, not radical change. More selectivity, more time apprenticed to a classroom teacher, more emphasis on content and classroom management. None of that is earth-shaking, but might improve teaching outcome/retention. Any call for radical change is a signal that the group/individual sees a panacea for radical improvement in education and is prima facie evidence of insanity or idiocy. Our issues are too multifaceted.

  11. One radical change in teacher education would help:  the passing grade on the test for general knowledge and skills should be an entrance requirement, not a graduation requirement.  Weed the idiots out at the door and send them to remediation elsewhere, or to a career where they will do less harm.

  12. Roger Sweeny says:


    I am confused. First you said, “student learning is largely orthogonal to teacher ed” (February 24, 2011 at 10:20 am). Then, you said, “There’s a great deal of evidence that trained teacher (regardless of method) do better than untrained teachers (and TFA counts as training). Take someone off the street and put them in a classroom and they won’t do well” (February 24, 2011 at 3:17 pm).

    If the former is true, teacher ed is a foolish luxury. If the latter is true, it is absolutely essential.

    Perhaps you mean that some sort of training is absolutely necessary, but that beyond a certain minimum of classroom management and lesson preparation, nothing makes any difference. If that is indeed what you mean, it would seem to imply a major change in teacher education.

  13. Engineer-Poet–clearly you know nothing about current admission standards to ed school.

    The passage of a basic knowledge and skills test is required for admission into most, if not all, teaching programs.

    But hey, who wants to let facts interfere with ideology? Ruins the sound bite.

  14. clearly you know nothing about current admission standards to ed school.

    I know that the failure of many ed school students to pass their general knowledge exams, let alone their particular subject-area exams, was quite the scandal just a few years ago.  I have also been running into rampant and even aggressive ignorance from teachers since the 1970’s.

    The passage of a basic knowledge and skills test is required for admission into most, if not all, teaching programs.

    If that’s changed in the last few years, it’s a change for the better.  However, I doubt that such a change has been universal, and I know it hasn’t been applied to the ranks of ignoramuses who graduated, got jobs and achieved tenure under the old system.