Friday, May 9, 2008

Rotherham Poses Teacher Quality vs, Class Size - Again

Andy is at it again over at Eduwonk.

Small classes are not a silver bullet and research pretty clearly indicates that it's a much weaker -- and more expensive -- strategy than some others, like improving teacher effectiveness. That's especially true where there are a dearth of qualified applicants for teaching jobs so reducing class size merely exacerbates quality problems. The research and evidence base here is pretty clear and it is what it is, so contra what a lot of the advocates it's not something that you get to agree or disagree with any more than you can agree or disagree with gravity. The bottom line is that teacher quality matters more.

I followed Andy's advice (when he called me crazy) and checked and rechecked that teacher survey looking for a question that would ask teachers how they viewed the teacher quality vs. class size reduction. Maybe I missed - it didn't seem to be asked. One would think, given the nature of this post, that question would be fundamental. But he is not really interested in what teachers think about this issue because the answer is obvious. That teacher quality across the board (except maybe the 5% edge) would improve across the board.

And it would be nice to see links to the research that "proves" teacher quality matters more than class size reduction.

It is also interesting that the cost argument is used when it comes to class size reduction, the real reason teacher quality is the hot new thing in rejecting calls for a serious investment in education equal to say, Bear Sterns bailouts or wars.

A recent presentation at Columbia U about the Tennessee study on class size impact also took some aspects of teacher quality into account and came up with the opposite conclusion.

The "research" on teacher quality - based on what factors, by the way - as is the teacher survey – it's about a political agenda, not education reform. How disappointing to the Education Sector that the onslaught going on against teachers due to the "reforms" being pushed by them has resulted in teachers feeling a greater need for a union.

We'll expound more on how the survey was designed to seek out making inroads into the teaching corps to push this agenda.


  1. I am never clear what we are talking about when we say "teacher quality".
    I asked just this question of one top DoE official in a training session at Tweed last week who had, in an aside unrelated to the training, claimed that teacher quality is the best predictor of student achievement.
    Teacher quality as measured by what?, was my question.
    The aswer I got back : "ok, so its not teacher quality but teacher effectivenss that is the best predictor of student achievement" sent me into a logical loop. I hope someone here can explain the logic to me; no one at the training could.
    Teacher effectiveness, as measured by the teacher's ability to raise test scores, is the best predictor of student achievement as measured by a rise in test scores.
    Besides equating teaching with raising test scores, assuming that higher test scores means more learning and advocating for turning schools in Kaplan-style tets prep factories, what does this circular logic prove?

  2. I think parental involvement, actually, is the best predictor of student achievement. I do think, though, that a good teacher is likely to be the best second chance for a kid who lacks involved parents.

  3. Let's think about the phalanx of teachers children will have. The entire crop in my personal experience as a teacher and student is a bell curve - from awful to great, with most teachers falling in the middle. This will always be true.

    My argument is the bell curve shifts in the middle areas with lower class sizes (the edges - great and awful probably are not much affected.)

    Since the Ed Sector characters have no way to determine what teachers are good other than using testing outcomes, the debate is mute. And claiming the amorphous teacher quality issue has priority over class size is a bogus argument.

  4. Anon 1:43
    I want to say that your comment so nails what this is all about. I'm going to put it up as a main blog post soon. Teacher effectiveness will be the replacement for teacher quality after that goes down in flames. Think they are thinking about the 12 lunatics that became angels in your class as a measure of TE? They'll say it was due to keeping them busy doing test prep.

  5. I like how you admonish Rotherham for his lack of links to evidence and then don't link any yourself.

    NYC Educator, parental involvement is important, but it's like the weather - there's nothing we in education can do about it. What we can affect is teacher quality and class size, one of which (teacher quality) has significant impact on student outcomes, and the other of which doesn't.

    I've taught small classes and big classes, and gotten similar results with both. It's easier to do so with a small class, for sure, but it's easier to find enough people who can do a good job if we have big classes and don't have to find as many of such people.

    Finally, using the term "lunatics" to describe kids is not cool, Norm. They're kids, they have potential, they're actual people. Please don't characterize them as lunatics unless and until they grow up and become status-quo-loving-loonies, at which point the name will be appropriate.

  6. Why waste your time with someone who has no mind? Rotherham gets paid to do this full time. I do it for free to keep you occupied. And speaking of lunatics...


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