Monday, July 28, 2008

Teacher Quality in Context... Eduwonkette's place.

I have so much to say about the teacher quality issue that I can never properly organize it into a coherent piece and end up putting bits and pieces in various comments. Some day ... when it's not beach weather. But thank goodness there are people who are coherent out there.

One of the things ya gotta love about 'Wonkette is that she gets it about teacher quality. You knew that on her first day of blogging back on Sept. 23, 2007 when she was still at Blogger. (Is it not even a year when she seems to have been around forever?)

Her first week's posts are worth rereading:

Tunnel vision syndrome - The teacher effectiveness debate focuses only on a narrow set of the goals of public education, which may endanger other important goals we have for our schools.

No teacher is an island - The teacher effectiveness debate ignores that teachers play many roles in a school. Experienced teachers often serve as anchoring forces in addition to teaching students in their own classrooms. If we don’t acknowledge this interdependence, we may destabilize schools altogether.

Ignoring the great sorting machine - If students were randomly assigned to classrooms and schools, measuring teacher effects would be a much more straightforward enterprise. But when Mrs. Jones is assigned the lowest achievers, and Mrs. Scott’s kids are in the gifted and talented program, matters are complicated immeasurably.

Overlooking the oops factor - Everything in the world is measured with error, and the best research on teacher effectiveness takes this very seriously. Yet many of those hailing teacher effectiveness proposals missed out on Statistics 101.

Disregarding labor market effects - The nature of evaluation affects not only current teachers, but who chooses to join the profession in the future and where they are willing to teach. If we don’t acknowledge that kids that are further behind are harder to pull up, we risk creating yet another incentive for teachers to avoid the toughest schools.

She followed up on Jan. 31 soon after moving over the Ed Week:

Today she adds a piece on Jim Spillane's research with this intro:

The current policy discourse about teachers and teaching in the U.S. emphasizes the recruitment and retention of “high-quality” teachers, defined either by the teachers’ credentials, or their value-added influence on students’ achievement, or both. It has not, in skoolboy’s view, paid sufficient attention to the ways in which the school serves as a context for teachers’ work, shaping the conditions under which a teacher might be more or less successful in advancing students’ learning. Teachers don’t teach in a vacuum; the ability of the leaders in a school to set a direction, secure resources, facilitate professional development, and build a culture for teachers to work in concert has a lot to do with whether a teacher can be successful.

Read it all here.

And check out some of the stuff at the center for teacher quality (though on a cursory look I probably have some issues with their positions. However, their work on working conditions and how they affect TQ looks interesting.

I'm looking for a grant to do some research on how teacher effectiveness dropped when Bloomberg forced every school to install Snapple machines. Would I have to drink the stuff myself?


  1. Norm,

    Which is Mystery No. 1 here, the identity of eduwonkette or the New York Times pretending that she does not exist or are these mysteries one and the same?


  2. Thanks for your acknowledgment of the excellent work done by the Center for TEACHING Quality, in North Carolina. Not sure what other issues you might have with their positions, but CTQ is an organization dedicated to the idea of putting the teachers' voice into the policy-making process. That concept is played out in their sponsorship of the Teacher Leaders Network (see TEACHER magazine and EdWeek for lots of TLN teachers' essays and blogs)--as well as some great research (like the working conditions studies). One of their crown jewels is TeacherSolutions, a policy creation model where diverse groups of actual teachers come together to study key issues and issue reports and recommendations.

    I emphasize "Teaching" because a lot of the issues you're discussing in this post turn on the distinction between selecting presumably good teachers vs. improving practice--teaching--in the teachers who are already in place in high needs schools. Making working conditions and professional learning better might go a lot further in fixing schools than sorting and selecting in the teacher pool.

    Thanks also for acknowledging Eduwonkette's enormous influence and intellectual integrity. She does totally rock. As do you.

  3. Thansk Nancy. You do plenty of rocking yourself.


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