Shanker Blog’s Matthew Di Carlo takes on the trifecta of teacher-focused ed reform talking points:
- Teachers are the most important (in-school) factor affecting achievement;
- Firing the bottom 5-10 percent of teachers will increase our scores to the level of high-performing nations; and
- Providing children with three, four, or five consecutive “top” teachers in a row would close the achievement gap.
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.”