Chubb: Get serious about high-quality teachers

Today’s teachers “don’t come close to meeting the academic standards being set for students” writes John Chubb in The Best Teachers in the World.

A proficient score on NAEP reading or math translates into at least a 600 on the SAT, or about a 1200 overall. The most generous estimate of the aptitude of new U.S. teachers recently estimated SAT scores of 515 in critical reading (formerly verbal) and 506 in math, or 1021 overall.

Once on the job, teachers rarely are held accountable for their students’ performance, Chubb writes. And “by international standards teachers are not highly compensated in the United States—at least one factor that determines the quality of individuals attracted to a profession and willing to stick with it.” In short, “U.S. education policy is not serious about high-quality teachers.”

The U.S. needs to recruit high achievers to teaching and give them “work that is less menial and more expert, less prescribed and more responsible,” Chubb writes. Using technology to improve productivity would make it possible to raise pay to attract top talent.

 Teaching is not an art, to which some are born and others are not. It is an intellectually demanding endeavor that can and should be guided by research-based practice. Teachers should be trained, both before they take charge of a classroom and thereafter. They should not be trained, however, in the schools of education that predominate today.

Finally, high-quality teaching requires high-quality principals, who “create the working conditions that help determine whether great teachers remain.”

Chubb’s new book is The Best Teachers in the World: Why We Don’t Have Them and How We Could.


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  1. A proficient score on NAEP reading or math translates into at least a 600 on the SAT, or about a 1200 overall.

    And a 1200 SAT M+V puts you in the top 25% of the people taking the SAT. Since your typical high school dropout doesn’t take the SAT and folks who are intending to go to a local community college don’t need the SAT and people intending to go into the military right out of high school don’t need the SAT … this probably works out to about the top 15-20% of 18-year olds in the nation.

    Is the suggestion that we only take K-12 teachers from the academic top 20%? If so, what is the plan if not enough folks want to teach K-12?

    But it also appears that about 33% of all US 8th graders score as proficient on each of reading and math.


    Which doesn’t line up with a SAT M+V score of 1200…

  2. I really do wish that these polls/surveys would differentiate between elementary (K-6 or K-8) teachers, and those who are secondary teachers. These stats would be quite different if they did.

    • I agree with you and that probably contributes to the fact that the HS problems were created in ES, and often continued in MS. Far too many kids, including those with the ability and motivation, start MS so far behind on the fundamentals (in all subjects) that they are unlikely to be able to make up the deficits. Today, ES seems to be a lot like “playing school”: lots of arts and crafts and touchy-feely stuff but free of serious academic content.

  3. According to “Educating Young Giants” by Nancy Pine, China’s elementary teachers are subject-area specialists. We should do the same.

  4. Teachers failing to remain current in their field is one of my serious concerns. High school teachers unable to explain the grammar they are teaching or history teachers unaware of contemporary events is not uncommon and quite disturbing. In fact, I’m surprised at people who don’t follow education news. When countless teachers I know have never heard of Khan Academy, I just think, “What do you people do with your time?”

  5. Roger Sweeny says:

    If I didn’t expect such low standards in ed policy articles, I would be extremely disappointed by this one.

    1. Chubb admits that the most powerful predictor of success in school is the student’s home life. If someone were to randomly pick pairs of students, one living with a low income single mother and one living with a moderate income parental pair, and asked you to bet which student would do better in school, you would get very rich if you consistently picked the latter.

    He then informs us, quite correctly, that the most important of the less important predictors is teacher quality. There have been studies showing that a year of a very good teacher after years of bad teachers results in substantial gains in students’ performance. He then asserts that many years of very good teachers would result in similar gains every year. As far as I know, there is no research that shows this. And there is good reason to think it would not occur. Someone who has just sat around for years and then starts an exercise program is going to show substantial gains in fitness in the first year. Later years may or may not show improvement. The improvement certainly won’t be at the same rate.

    2. When I was younger, I thought that the best athletes would make the best coaches. I was wrong. In fact, very good athletes sometimes make terrible coaches. Their players don’t have the work ethic and “love of the game” that the top performers did–which will frustrate the hell out of the coach. Moreover, things came a lot easier to the top performers. They have little personal experience of how the less successful struggle or how they eventually succeed when they do.

    Of course, teachers have to understand what they are teaching–but that’s a very different thing.

    3. Chubb quite correctly says that there is no demonstrated payoff in teaching ability from going to ed school. People who work in ed schools think there is but if we are ruthless in requiring results, we can’t listen to what they say. However, he himself makes the statement, “The United States has the best system of higher education in the world. In the most recent Times of London rankings, seven of the top ten, eighteen of the top twenty-?ve, and ?fty-three of the top one hundred universities were American.” If you google “Times of London university rankings 2012” and then click on the methodology tab, you find that they “Employ the world’s largest reputation survey, drawing on the expert views of more than 17,500 experienced academics, collected in 2011 from 137 countries.”


  6. What, exactly, is the problem? What ARE the problems?

    Our state requires subject certification for all teachers in grades 7 and above. Splitting the subjects and requiring certification would help in the lower grades, but Chubb seems unwilling or unable to to discuss that level of detail. He takes an “it’s one thing” sort of approach to all of the problems in K-12. When he focuses on the AVERAGE ability of teachers, you know that his argument will never come up with any good solution. And this is what we get from …

    “…a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of Hoover’s Koret Task Force on K–12 Education, is interim CEO of Education Sector, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to independent analysis and innovative ideas in K–12 and higher education. ”

    Look at another comment that comes close to defining a real problem:

    “Once on the job, teachers rarely are held accountable for their students’ performance,…”

    Is this because they are not certified or smart enough? Is this a problem for all grades? Is this a teacher problem or a systemic problem?

    Our K-8 schools use full inclusion and try to make up for it with some vague sort of differentiated instruction. They use Everyday Math which tells teachers to keep moving through the material and to “trust the spiral”. If teachers follow this and do not get good results, is it because they are dumb or that they need more accountability? When the fundamental assumption of K-6 education is to treat learning as natural: “they will learn when they are ready”, how is an accountability requirement going to help? I can understand why teachers don’t like accountability. However, one cannot hide behind full inclusion. Accountability has to win, and trying harder with full inclusion will will not work.

    Once kids get to high school, many teachers feel no need to pump kids along. They will flunk them. They know that learning is rarely natural. Many care about specific course goals and set high standards. Many of them are highly qualified and have years of experience. Unfortunately, many students still struggle to recover from K-8 curricula. Others, who have received a lot of help at home, do well. There is still an accountability problem, but it’s different than the earlier grades.

    I’ve mentioned before that I’ve seen a curriculum and philosophy wall between our K-8 schools and our high schools. It’s huge. The 7th and 8th grades have given in to the need to prepare some kids for advanced courses in math and language in high school, but they tend to think this is a natural process. However, it’s a nonlinear transition from K-6 and they never seem to ask parents what goes on at home.

  7. And also,

    “A proficient score on NAEP reading or math translates into at least a 600 on the SAT, or about a 1200 overall. ”

    Where is the link for this analysis?

    • There is no link b/c Chubb knows the truth about NAEP scores, they are absolute garbage. The National Science Foundation showed almost 20 years ago they were not reliable, and nothing has changed since.

      • I completely agree, Mike. And, I’m still fascinated by the country continuing to emphasize student scores from tests that have no student accountability. Do you have more info – or a link – on the NSF study?

        • No, it has “disappeared” from the govt. webpages, but info on it can be found here:

          Or by searching on Google

          • Well that’d be your kind of “support” Mike – non-existent but fearsomely authoritative.

            Until someone goes and takes a look at the document being referenced. They your inevitable misrepresentation is revealed. Fortunately for you that can’t happen in this case but something else can.

            Sorry, no link, no credibility. The NSF never came to the conclusion you, and a bunch of other valiant defenders of the status quo, purport it as having come to.

            You sure it isn’t God that’s being quoted as having found fault with the NAEP?

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            Mike in Texas,

            Thanks for the link. I did a little google searching and couldn’t find anything to back up your claim, “The National Science Foundation showed almost 20 years ago they were not reliable.” Perhaps you meant the team appointed by the NAEP governing board? From the linked article:

            In 1988, though, Congress created the National Assessment Governing Board and charged it with establishing standards. …The governing board hired a team of three well-known evaluators and psychometricians to evaluate the process — Daniel Stufflebeam of Western Michigan University, Richard Jaeger of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Michael Scriven of NOVA Southeastern University. The team delivered its final report on Aug. 23, 1991. This process does not work, the team averred, saying: “[T]he technical difficulties are extremely serious … these standards and the results obtained from them should under no circumstances be used as a baseline or benchmark … the procedures used in the exercise should under no circumstances be used as a model.”

            According to the article, the governing board then tried to fire the team, but the report had already been delivered.

    • Barry Garelick says:

      I’d like to know this too. The questions on the NAEP exam are very easy. I find it difficult to believe that they are comparable to the degree of difficulty of questions on the Math SAT–at least for the purpose of correlating a score on the NAEP with a score on the Math SAT.

  8. This analysis is brilliant, because even when people who did do well on those tests go into teaching, they’re still stupid for doing so when they’ve been given no incentives to become and stay teachers.

    I also like comparing this to the competing narratives, which include how teachers make too much money when you count their benefits, and how teachers in unionized states make more money and get better benefits. Both of which have been featured on this site at one point or another, I believe.

    So in conclusion, we’re all stupid, and we definitely make too little money, but way too much in benefits and pensions, and teachers in unionized states are clearly more intelligent than teachers in right to work states, as clearly demonstrated by the better incentives for smart people to go into teaching there, as defined only in terms of money. But they’re still stupid.

  9. John Chubb, founder of Edison, member of the Hoover Institution. He’s a right-wing wet dream

    • I really liked the subhead on the column:

      “The attempts of political bodies to bludgeon public schools with arbitrary performance standards”

      Imagine that! Political bodies asserting control over a political institution. The cads!

  10. “Chubb knows the truth about NAEP scores, they are absolute garbage.”

    Bracey complains about the proficiency cutoffs, not the test itself, and Bracey does not have anything to say about NAEP and SAT correlation. Chubb is looking at some NAEP/SAT correlation data. Where is that? I assume it would be an analysis of the 12th grade NAEP test and those students who have taken the SAT. This would say little about any calibration in 4th or 8th grade.

  11. The study was done by the General Accounting Office and the National Academy of Science, it was entitled “PEMD-93-12”

    • Oh I remember this little exchange.

      It was a couple of years ago but then, like now, your claims don’t stand up to examination which is why you prefer to put words in the mouths of those who can’t readily call you on the liberty.

      Of course the report says nothing like what you claim it says but anyone whose read your predictable and transparent misrepresentations would guess that. There are criticisms of the NAEP but also acknowledgements of its validity as well. That’s why you claim it’s “disappeared” off government sites – your misrepresentations only have a chance of working when there’s no access to what it is your misrepresenting –

      • “The National Academy of Sciences put it this way: “NAEP’s current achievement-setting procedures remain fundamentally flawed. The judgment tasks are difficult and confusing; raters’ judgments of different item types are internally inconsistent; appropriate validity evidence for the cut scores is lacking; and the process has produced unreasonable results.”