Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Improving education: hire good teachers, fire bad teachers, and train teachers to be better

Ray Fisman has a good article in Slate - Hot for the Wrong TeachersWhy are public schools so bad at hiring good instructors? His article starts with:

PS 49 in Queens used to be an average school in New York City's decidedly below-average school system. That was before Anthony Lombardi moved into the principal's office. When Lombardi took charge in 1997, 37 percent of fourth graders read at grade level, compared with nearly 90 percent today; there have also been double-digit improvements in math scores. By 2002, PS 49 made the state's list of most improved schools. If you ask Lombardi how it happened, he'll launch into a well-practiced monologue on the many changes that he brought to PS 49 (an arts program, a new curriculum from Columbia's Teachers College). But he keeps coming back to one highly controversial element of the school's turnaround: getting rid of incompetent teachers.

Ray says there are three basic ways to improve education, hire good teachers, fire bad teachers, and train teachers to be better. But research has shown that it is hard to predict who will be a good teacher:

For instance, in 1997, Los Angeles tripled its hiring of elementary-school teachers following a state-mandated reduction in class size. If L.A. schools had been doing a good job of picking the best teachers among their applicants, then the average quality of new recruits should have gone down when they expanded their ranks—they were hiring from the same pool of applicants, but accepting candidates who would have been rejected in prior years. But as researchers Thomas Kane and Douglas Staiger found, the crop of new teachers didn't perform any worse than the teachers the school had hired in more selective years.
This unexpected result is consistent with the findings from dozens of studies analyzing the predictors of teacher quality. Researches have looked at just about every possible determinant of teaching success, and it seems there's nothing on a prospective teacher's résumé that indicates how he or she will do in the classroom. While some qualifications boost performance a little bit—National Board certification seems to help, though a master's degree in education does not—they just don't improve it very much.

This leaves government schools with two options, firing bad teachers and training teachers to be better. Teacher unions have pushed for laws and rules that make it very hard to fire bad teachers. Training can only take you so far, and loses its punch if the teachers don't have to pay attention.

The result is children suffer because public schools can't get rid of bad teachers.

(Hat tip Friends of Dave)

Technorati tags: government schools, public school, public education, education


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Anonymous said...

Wake up and smell the agenda! Public schools, which should rather be called government schools, are doing exactly what they were designed to do: make our kids subservient idiots who never question anything they're told, unless it's from their parents. Anyone who doesn't believe me should check out and click on the link to "Read his latest essay, "Against School".