Monday, March 30, 2009

The Teacher Quality Problem

Here's the thing about President Obama's centrist "new pragmatic" approach to problems: I can never fully disagree or agree with the things he's saying. His education positions are no exception. Take some of his remarks from late last week. He says that we need to find ways to get bad teachers out of the clasroom (I agree with some qualifications) and that test scores shouldn't be the only way we measure teacher quality (agree totally).

First, the agreement. Obviously, teacher quality should be judged on more than the results of fill-in-the-bubble tests taken by students. That can be part of the equation, definitely, but even the kids taking the tests shouldn't be judged solely on them. No way should that be the sole criterion for determining who is an effective or ineffective teacher.

As for educational progress being contingent upon getting rid of bad teachers, I'm halfway there. Clearly, having ineffective teachers (however they're judged) isn't in the best interests of kids. We need to do what we can to make sure that every teacher in every classroom is a good teacher. And undoubtedly there are some people who just aren't made to be teachers and shouldn't be in the field. But I think that number is actually very low. I think (as I've written before) that most teachers are not all-stars or duds. Most teachers are average, middle-of-the-road teachers who work hard and want the best for kids. So when we look at that pool, we could draw the line at some point and say that anyone who falls below it has to find a new job. Or we can work to improve the teachers we have to ensure that they are able to be successful. The best way to get rid of bad teachers is to turn them into good teachers.

It makes more sense to me to work to improve the teachers we have rather than try to start over with a new pool in the magical hope that every one of them will be an all-star. I don't think that's a pragmatic approach at all.

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