Parents have always worried about where to send their children to school; but the school, statistically speaking, does not matter as much as which adult stands in front of their children. Teacher quality tends to vary more within schools—even supposedly good schools—than among schools.
But we have never identified excellent teachers in any reliable, objective way. Instead, we tend to ascribe their gifts to some mystical quality that we can recognize and revere—but not replicate. The great teacher serves as a hero but never, ironically, as a lesson.
At last, though, the research about teachers’ impact has become too overwhelming to ignore.
Worrying about our education system in this country is one of the few things that truly nags my mind. I think I could become obsessed about the problem if I had more time to contemplate the problem.
What is the problem? I see the symptoms in my “day job” manifested in high school “graduates” who can barely fill out applications for court-appointed legal representation and one, if you can believe it, spelled his name differently in two places on the application. I hear of failures of education when colleges have to provide remedial courses for students who took dual-credit courses (whom you might have assumed were high-achieving students).
For all of those reasons I was intrigued by this article describing an objective approach to identifying truly effective teachers and learning what makes them different — different in that they are bringing their students along much faster than their peers. Bill Bennett talks of studies demonstrating that getting rid of the lowest-performing 5% of teachers can have dramatic effect on the overall educational results in America.
Let’s figure out what makes great teachers great and try to replicate the distinguishing features. America cannot survive and retain its place in the world if we don’t.