Thursday, January 6, 2011

Teacher, I Mean, Teaching Quality Series: Introduction

Teacher quality as key to K-12 students’ success is the central component of the new education reformer’s platform. For example, their manifesto, published in The Washington Post last September stated that:
". . . the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents' income--it is the quality of their teacher. . . A 7-year-old girl won't make it to college someday because her teacher has two decades of experience or a master's degree--she will make it to college if her teacher is effective and engaging and compels her to reach for success. By contrast, a poorly performing teacher can hold back hundreds, maybe thousands, of students over the course of a career."

I agree that a seven-year-old girl's having a teacher with two decades of experience or a master's degree does not automatically mean that she'll make it to college. Conversely, I don't agree that she'll definitely make it if her teachers are "effective, engaging, and compel her to reach for success." (And what exactly does it mean to "compel someone to reach for success"? While we’re at it, can we please, please, please reform the use of meaningless education sloganese?) 

Having such teachers will certainly increase her chances of making it to college, but as the more wonky work of New Teacher Center Education Policy Director Liam Goldrick, Shanker Institute researcher Mathew Di Carlo, and Economic Policy Institute  virtuoso Richard Rothstein demonstrate, so will many other factors.

Those factors aside, I do agree that as a school-based success factor, the quality of teaching is a huge one. I think it’s fair to say that if the quality of teachers’ teaching improves than the quality and quantity of student learning will increase. So, how then, do we improve the quality of teaching what makes a teacher effective? What qualifies as effective teaching? What qualifies as meaningful learning?

In this series, I will attempt to answer these questions.

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