The teacher trifecta

Shanker Blog’s Matthew Di Carlo takes on the trifecta of teacher-focused ed reform talking points:

The trifecta implies that improving teacher quality will get us a long way toward solving our education problems.  That’s a “fantasy,” writes Di Carlo. While teachers are a “very significant” in-school factor in students’ academic success, “non-school factors matter much more.”

Even if we’re wildly successful in improving teacher quality – and that’s far from certain – this will not, by itself, get us anywhere near where we need to be.

It will be years before we figure out how to measure teacher quality accurately, he writes. And there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to affect it. “There is virtually no evidence, at least not yet, that we can use policy to spur major shifts in the ‘quality distribution’ of teachers.”

Given the enormity of trying to bring meaningful change to a high-attrition workforce comprised of millions of individual teachers working in thousands of districts, the realistic, best-case outcome would be to see minor, incremental progress over time. In other words, if we play all of our teacher policy cards correctly – better evaluations, etc. – with a little luck and over a period of years, if not decades, we will be able to generate modest overall improvements in teacher “quality.” Test scores should also show slow, incremental improvements over this period – gains that we would hope will be shared widely by most students, regardless of race, income, or other characteristics.

But even under this scenario, we would look around and still be nowhere near to achieving equal educational opportunity for all children.

Without tackling the effects of poverty, there’s no hope of equalizing educational opportunity for low-income urban children, he argues.  In addition to jobs, health care and housing programs, this entails “high-quality early childhood intervention systems – not just pre-K, but from birth to age 3,” plus “ensuring the proper content is being taught, providing intensive assistance for struggling students and attending to kids’ medical, psychological, and social needs as soon as they arise.”

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Comments

  1. –Without tackling the effects of poverty, there’s no hope of equalizing educational opportunity for low-income urban children, he argues

    Without tackling the effects of poverty, there’s no hope of equalizing healthcare for people, either.

    This does not mean doctors and nurses throw up their hands and say “can’t save them! No point in trying!” Medical professionals and their hospitals and clinics believe their job is to cure illness, treat conditions, save lives. Equality is not the measure of their success. An individual getting cured, treated, or living a productive life is

    The education establishment needs to stop using external factors as excuses for why they can’t teach a child a year’s material in a year’s time and follow the hospital model: we save people, that is our job. We don’t fix poverty and we don’t stop death, but we will do everything in our power to provide the best possible care to save each individual who comes in our doors.

  2. SuperSub says:

    Allison, the question isn’t one of morals, but of economics. The reforms would cost taxpayers millions and given the chaotic influence of federal, state, and local oversight, has a good chance of achieving absolutely nothing.
    Using a medical analogy… the US Ed system is in a state of triage. Yes, we can fix that broken leg, but it won’t do a lot of good because that individual is losing blood rapidly and will likely die.

  3. Of course if income is so overwhelmingly important then the case for paying teachers as much as they’re paid would…?

  4. There’s also some weird assumption that the ‘bottom 5-10%’ would be definable and that somehow the remainder of the teachers are all in the 90th percentile. That’s just not reality.

  5. I’m with Allison – excuses, excuses! I’m sick of them. I can spot bad teaching a mile away. It’s not much different from porn – you know when you see it. My current job as a science enrichment teacher takes me into 100′s of K-5 classrooms in a MD county. Within three minutes of my set-up time I can tell if the teacher is effective at classroom management. I often see the classroom teachers finishing up a lesson before my time begins and I can detect spectacular, mediocre or crap within seconds. It’s so damn obvious! The problem is that public school teachers (in general) think they are a protected class that shouldn’t be evaluated and fired like the rest of us in the real world (I’m not a county employee, but a contractor, and I can be dropped at any second) and public school systems have lost site of what they are there for – education, not social services, health care services, etc. Get out of the game of failing to be everything to everybody and focus on building knowledge and skills with a strong dose of discpline. What kids decide to do with that is their choice.

    This year I work in two title one schools and both have no nonsense principals that do not accept failure as an option. I love teaching in both of them. I never have discipline issues in my lessons. All but one teacher has impressed me. It can be done when the expectation is there and the leadership is strong.

  6. Geena,

    Your “I can spot crap in second” nonsense sounds like a load of crap

  7. yeah I agree with Mike on this one Geena. I guess i can use that analogy when I am dealing with students right? I can spot a failure 5 minutes into the class. How does that sound?

  8. Sean Mays says:

    Mike:

    Geena might be jumping the gun, but probably not by more than 29 seconds. I worked in a few of those “log normally distributed” industries before going into teaching. Senior partners, managing directors, whatever they were called them; I heard it from multiple sources: I can usually tell if you’re going to get an offer within about 30 seconds; on a bad day, it might take a couple minutes. Geena might have the gene; no pun intended. It took me a bit longer when interviewing candidates, but not nearly the whole time; some are just obviously “on” and have more than a pulse.

  9. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    I can spot a failure 5 minutes into the class. How does that sound?

    It sounds like you are a teacher of many years of wisdom-gaining experience, frankly. I can spot the C students in my classes within the first week or so, with something approaching 95% accuracy with respect to false positives. (In the department where I am, the C students are pretty much the bottom of the barrel. I don’t have a system for picking out the F’s yet because they are too few to generate reliable generalizations.) My false negatives rating is much higher — I am generally more optimistic about my students’ achievement than is warranted.

    Anyway, I’m occasionally surprised, and pleased to be at that. But it’s a surprise because I’m almost always right.

    I’m with Geena on this: everyone in a school knows who the two or three worst teachers are. Picking them out isn’t hard. Finding the will to do something about it is.

    And finally, in response to bandit, who said:

    There’s also some weird assumption that the ‘bottom 5-10%’ would be definable and that somehow the remainder of the teachers are all in the 90th percentile. That’s just not reality.

    … I don’t know what you meant, but it can’t possibly be what you wrote because you sound like a moron and I can’t imagine that someone who would comment on this blog would be as dense as your comment makes you seem.

    The bottom 10% is definable as “the bottom 10%” — that’s what it is. (Perhaps you meant that there is an epistemological issue that needs to be surmounted?) And as for what’s left, well… 100% – 10% is 90%, last I checked.

    That’s reality.

  10. Roger Sweeny says:

    Thinly Veiled Anonymity,

    I think he meant that

    1) You can easily pick out the bottom 5-10% because they are noticeably and substantially worse than the others.

    2) The ones that remain are all very good. They are 90th percentile as in top 10%. Not actually top 10% because that is mathematically impossible, but as good as a teacher in the top 10%.

    At least that’s how I interpreted it.

  11. As to the question of how much time it takes to determine whether someone is a good teacher, this study is interesting: http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2006/05/the_sixsecond_teacher_evaluati.php

  12. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    Sweeny-

    Thanks… that actually makes a lot more sense read like that!

    Sorry, bandit. It didn’t occur to me that anyone would ever make the mathematical mistake you were attributing to your opponents, so I didn’t actually give your sentence the most natural reading.

    Of course, you’re right.

    But who assumes this exactly? I’m not following the argument now…

  13. Equality is not the measure of their success.

    It is for teaching. Which means, of course, that your entire analogy is useless.

    It can be done when the expectation is there and the leadership is strong.

    Golly kids, let’s find a barn and put on a show!