Friday, July 11, 2008

How Can We Get Good Teachers In Schools?

The teachers unions won't like this Slate piece, but it makes sense to me.

Firing bad teachers may seem like a rather obvious solution, but it requires some gumption to take on a teachers union. And cleaning house isn't necessarily the only answer. There are three basic ways to improve a school's faculty: take greater care in selecting good teachers upfront, throw out the bad ones who are already teaching, and provide training to make current teachers better. In theory, the first two should have more or less the same effect, and it might seem preferable to focus on never hiring unpromising instructors—once entrenched, it's nearly impossible in most places to remove teachers from their union-protected jobs. But that's assuming we're good at predicting who will teach well in the first place.

It turns out we aren't.


allen (in Michigan) said...

It really is a tribute to the mind-numbing effect that public education has had on the popular imagination that a concept like measuring teaching skill's approached as if it's a cross between brain surgery and black magic - fearfully complex and morally wrong.

The execution will be complex but the concept's simple enough: measure the difference between the kid coming into class and the kid leaving.

Once you start measuring teaching skill you can relate it to the ed school - and won't that cause a stir in their Olympian detachment - and go after the graduates of the schools that produce the best teachers.

Of course, education has to matter if teaching skill's going to be measured and so far teaching skill isn't measured.

Well, one thing at a time I suppose.

Ellen K said...

Until classroom teaching becomes as important as being a celebrity or pro-athlete, nothing is going to change. I have had students tell me to my face that I don't know what I am talking about-parroting their parents' opinions as shaped by the media. What bright student wants to walk into that kind of low status position? The media, politicians and parents use bad teaching as the ultimate excuse for low student performance. And because they continue to cast blame, less promising scholars want to enter teaching. Perhaps the union protection of bad teachers plays into this, but there are parents out there who assume education is simply a matter of showing up nearly 90% of the time. It's not magic, but they want it to be. And I am not a magician.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Sorry Ellen, it's the education system in which education is unimportant.

If you have two school districts which are roughly comparable socio-economically yet one produces well-educated kids and the other doesn't, who among the professionals in the second school district suffers?

As you well know, no one. Not the teachers, the principals or the administrative staff. If the people who are paid to do the job don't lose their job for lousy performance and get no bonus for good performance what's that tell you about the importance of the task which they were ostensibly hired to perform? That it's a critical task and failure is not an option?

Or does it tell you that the quality of the work of the professionals hardly matters?

Ellen K said...

Not in Texas. The teachers are on the front lines for removal. Right now a battle is being waged over closing a high school that has been low performing for FOUR YEARS. And who is protesting? The parents. They didn't bother to make sure kids learned anything or even showed up for class, but they want their schools (football teams, basketball teams, drill teams and cheerleaders) let intact. The whole faculty will be removed and replaced. Seniors will be allowed to stay and incoming freshman will start with a new faculty. Everyone else move elsewhere.

allen (in Michigan) said...

You'll notice that the elements of the school which excite the most interest are competitive, publicly competitive and the payoff, if not particularly worthwhile over the long haul, is explicit, i.e. division championship ring, state finals band competition plaque, etc.

> The teachers are on the front lines for removal.

Of course. So should all the other professionals in the building including, especially including, the principal.

Brooming out the whole school's a pretty ham-handed way to handle the situation but it is better then leaving the situation intact. Doing nothing about failing schools is practically a cliche and now something is being done about it. If that "something" isn't particularly well thought out or refined, you've got to start somewhere. My big concern is that public interest will wane half way through the process of overhauling the public education system. I'm not sure that would be worse then the status quo which allowed terrible public schools to go on decade after decade but it isn't my idea of a solution.

By the way, notice that very few charter schools have football teams, bands, drill teams or cheerleaders. About all they do have to offer is education yet charter schools generally sport waiting lists. Parents, the vast majority, want their kids to have a good education but the public education system has evolved in a direction which places little emphasis on education and, by extension, little value on the professionals who have the responsibility of delivering education.