Thursday, February 12, 2009

Experience, Inexperience, and Success

I was just reading yesterday another ringing endorsement for alternative teacher certification routes in a study that found that kids with alternatively certified teachers perform just as well on standardized testing as kids with traditionally certified teachers. As if often the case when we discuss these studies, let's assume that standardized test scores are an appropriate measure for student learning. The bottom line on this, then, would seem to be that being a teacher doesn't necessarily mean having a traditional background in education. Rather, anyone with the right disposition and the appropriate content knowledge can be just as successful as someone who's spent years learning the ins and outs of pedagogy and child development.

But of course, things are never that simple.

I read a study maybe a week ago now (and which after 30 minutes of searching every source I could think of still can't find the link to) that compared the levels of student learning in various traditional public, charter, and for-profit schools. As is often the case in these studies, the traditional public schools came out at the bottom of the totem poll of success. But even among those charter and for-profit schools (the ultimate in market-based educational solutions), there was variation. According to the research, the deciding factor of success is the level of educational experience and expertise of the people running the schools. That is to say, the people who knew about education did a better job running schools than the people who knew about administration.

Take that idealocrats.

So now we're in an interesting situation. On the one hand, research says that knowing about education is helpful for running a school/school system. On the other hand, research says that this background isn't necessarily so important if you're actually in the classroom. Does that seem backwards to anyone else?

I have a few guesses as to why that might be the case and most of them involve which curricula get picked and the mandates for how lessons and days should go. That said, I think that I would always err on the side of going to the educational experts. Why wouldn't you go to the people who know what they're doing?

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