Monday, August 6, 2012

Teaching the Teachers

A central tenet for many education reformers is that if we just fired all the bad teachers, our educational problems would be solved in the US. Even before I became a teacher, I questioned whether or not the statistics claiming that most teachers come from the bottom third of their classes. Even if that's true, how do we fix it? Can we elevate the profession if we're routinely telling teachers they are stupid, lazy, and the main source of educational inequity in our country?

Probably not.

A small study of Cincinnati's Teacher Evaluation System suggests that targeted, teacher-led can help struggling teachers improve. Teacher evaluators (who are also currently teachers) give targeted feedback to struggling teachers. In Cincinnati,  teachers in the bottom quartile of the corps and the TES program were able to become average teachers after one year. This measure is based entirely on student test scores and only worked for math teachers.

Are tests really an accurate and fair representation of student learning? Will we ever figure out exactly how the language acquisition parts of our brain work? These are big questions worth answering. If we continue to shame teachers and insist that they are the only hope in a system riddled with inequitable funding, unresponsive curricula, and 25 percent of students experiencing the food insecurity associated with poverty, we aren't going to attract people into the profession who help students become the kinds of people who answer those big questions.

[Update: I think that anyone living in poverty experiences some sort of food insecurity. My boy Rikesh would like for you to know that the people who compile things have figured that just over 16 percent of kids live in food insecure households.]

3 comments:

Rikesh said...

i dont think 25% of students have food insecurity...

Maggie said...

You're right. It's only 22 percent: http://www.npc.umich.edu/poverty/

krp3md said...

I also find it interesting that we have this conversation with the teaching profession, and not, say, the law profession. Meaning, is this just a problem of teachers being unprepared or a problem with higher education in general? Do we just notice the problem with teachers more because we all care deeply about children and think we know how to teach because we've been through 12+ years of school? And because we try desperately to measure teaching through test scores, but not so much the product of lawyers and doctors in the same hard-numbers way?

An Irish kid in my German class says that in Ireland, you have to have the grades if you want to go to college (they won't let you in, otherwise). After that, it's free, though you have to work hard to earn points towards the degree you want. It seems we don't have those kinds of official limiting factors (i.e. in many cases you can buy a degree without having the grades), though there are unofficial societal limitations. I haven't decided yet if having official limitations would be a good or a bad thing...