Parents should pick their kids’ teachers

Parents should be allowed to pick their kids’ teachers, writes Andrew Rotherham in Time. It’s not enough to pick a high-scoring school, he writes.

Other parents are usually quick to share their perspectives and experiences. Pay close attention to what families with older siblings do with their younger ones — what teachers do they insist on or avoid? You can also ask to drop in and observe a lesson or two. You don’t need to be an expert to get a sense of whether a classroom is a place where there is learning going on and where you’d want your child to spend a lot of time. If you’re not crazy about your kid’s teacher, ask to observe another.

Don’t be shy about telling school officials well in advance of class assignments if you have a strong preference or concerns — there’s no guarantee they will accommodate you, but at the same time, they won’t even think about reassigning your kid to a different teacher unless you push for it. And squeaky wheels do get the grease.

Of course, if all parents investigate teachers’ reputations and request whoever’s considered best, this doesn’t work.

About Joanne


  1. I wonder how serious Rotherham is being or whether he’s just trying to provoke a reaction?

    The natural unit of organization for education, at least at the K-12 level, is the individual school as private schools have proven forever, Catholic archdiocesen schools prove by their practically non-existant central administration and now charters are proving in the tax-supported arena. If that is the school is that natural unit of organization of K-12 education then that’s the level at which the customre – parents – ought to meet the vendor.

    Just as you have a choice to accept or reject a doctor’s diagnosis but not joggle their elbow during surgery, at some point the decision has to be made to defer to the professional. That ought to be at the level of the choice of school in education.

  2. No. Nuff said.

  3. At least in the part of the country where I live, and this applies to city, suburban, public, private, and parochial schools, asking for a specific teacher simply isn’t done. A competent and ethical principal knows who the superstars (and duds) are and takes great pains to give each child his or her fair share. At these schools, being a squeaky wheel won’t do anything to change the child’s classroom assignment, but it will quickly brand the parent as a crazy assache, to borrow Tina Fey’s excellent phrase.

  4. dangermom says:

    I don’t send my kids to school, but I do see my friends discussing the pros and cons of various teachers and how they fit with their individual children. It’s not always a question of who is considered ‘best’ but of who will challenge their bored child vs. punishing, or who will help a struggling kid along.

    I must say I’m warmer to this idea than the rest of you after seeing my niece’s struggles this year. She goes to an excellent school but this year was assigned to, frankly, a terrible teacher who should have been fired. The woman is downright abusive to many of the children and I don’t know why there hasn’t been a scandal. Some parents have simply pulled their child from the class, but then they lose their placement at the school altogether, so others are reluctant and just hoping their kid will survive the year without too many scars.

  5. This would significantly undermine the potential of value-added assessments by gutting random assignment.

  6. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Am I the only person who sees a GREAT, objective, incentive-based system for evaluating teachers that doesn’t rely on test scores here?

  7. This is 100% incompatible wiht using value-added analysis.

    Heck, it is incompatible with ANY statistical method I know for comparing teachers.

    If students are not assigned randomly, then the assumptions underlying the math in all of these techniques are violated and the subsequent analysis is bunk.

    So, regardless of whether parents could ever do this well, what kind of resources they might tend to use, what resources might be available and whether this is good or bad for equity concerns…despite any number of serious questions one might have regarding parenting picking their childrens’ teachers, remember this: if parents pick their childrens’ teachers, you cannot use test score statistical analysis of any sort to validly compare teachers.


  8. Your last point is key.

    The main effect of this would be to further segregate the children of parents who care a lot about education and are willing to put in a bunch of effort to make it better, from kids whose parents don’t care about, or don’t have time to deal with, education. The former group already has a huge advantage over the latter group, and it doesn’t seem to me that increasing that gap is in society’s interest.

    We’d end up with the exact same teachers, but the composition of their classes would be different.

    • Lightly Seasoned says:

      Right. You’d get (for the most part) the weakest kids with the weakest teachers. Which is cool if you’re all Ayn Rand and stuff in your philosophy, but probably not great policy in the long term if you’re trying to increase the quality of education. You’d also overload the new hires with weak students.

      FWIW, I usually get the new kids. My classes are kept on the small side for a few different reasons, so I get the transfers.

  9. RIchard Aubrey says:

    The objections to parents having this influence sort of apply to teachers who have kids in the system and know better than anybody who’s a dud.

    • Every teacher I’ve known has done/intends to do exactly that for their own kids and that means almost all of the teachers who lived in the area, and that was the majority. In the county-wide system my kids attended for most/all of their k-12, it was not uncommon for teachers to get their kids transferred to schools of their choice (some where they taught, some not). It was theoretically an option for anyone, but it sure wasn’t easy and (until an Asian family won their lawsuit) had lots to do with race/ethnic status; certain schools closed to white/Asian transfers in, but open for black/Hispanic and similar variations. Somehow, the teachers’ kids always got in and they always got the teachers the parent wanted.

  10. If students are not assigned randomly, then the assumptions underlying the math in all of these techniques are violated and the subsequent analysis is bunk.

    Well, then all current analysis of teacher quality is bunk. In any school, there will be connected parents whose children will be placed wherever the administration thinks the parent will be most content. I’m sure the administration will talk a good game about random assignment, but unless a random number generator assigns children, it doesn’t happen in practice.

    Does current analysis remove all teacher’s children, all politician’s children, all celebrity children, all children on IEPs, and all PTA mom’s children from the equation? If it doesn’t, it’s bunk.

    Actually, if you want to know who the worst teacher in the grade is, find the teacher with whom the school places all the new kids. Parents in the system will try to avoid her (him), so there will be spots free in the class. New parents won’t know to avoid her, and won’t have any pull, either.

  11. The reason to do value added assessed is to determine which teachers are effective. As it happens, parents and especially teacher parents do this all the time and engage in all sorts of machinations to ensure that their child gets a decent teacher, or that their child avoids a bad teacher.

    Right now, the existing selection process favors that parents who are better at schmoozing the principal, their kid’s current teacher, or can make donations to the school.

    Letting parents pick their child’s teacher seems like a cheaper, faster method.

    As an added bonus, the incentives of the people choosing the teachers are more aligned with the needs of the students than anyone else.

    Of course, it would be a logistic nightmare because most people associated with the school know who the stars and duds are.

    A workable solution might be to let parents veto a teacher for their child. In a reasonably sized school, e.g. 100 kids per grade or so, unless a teacher is particularly bad, it would be odd to see more than 3/4 of the parents reject that teacher. Of course, if 3/4 of parents reject a teacher, well that is pretty valuable information that a problem exists with that teacher.