Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell why public school are doing poorly

In Most Likely To Succeed Malcolm Gladwell explores how hard it is to anticipate how well a person will perform. He starts off explaining how a football scout struggles to figure out which football players will do well on professional teams. Malcolm then reviews why it is hard to recognize who will be good teachers.

There are several good points in the column. I found this paragraph fascinating:

Hanushek recently did a back-of-the-envelope calculation about what even a rudimentary focus on teacher quality could mean for the United States. If you rank the countries of the world in terms of the academic performance of their schoolchildren, the U.S. is just below average, half a standard deviation below a clump of relatively high-performing countries like Canada and Belgium. According to Hanushek, the U.S. could close that gap simply by replacing the bottom six per cent to ten per cent of public-school teachers with teachers of average quality. After years of worrying about issues like school funding levels, class size, and curriculum design, many reformers have come to the conclusion that nothing matters more than finding people with the potential to be great teachers. But there's a hitch: no one knows what a person with the potential to be a great teacher looks like. The school system has a quarterback problem.

If we could change the politics of public schools and allow poor teachers to be fired, it would be a huge difference.

Here Malcolm writes about why certificates don't help in picking out good teachers:

A group of researchers - Thomas J. Kane, an economist at Harvard.s school of education; Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth; and Robert Gordon, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress - have investigated whether it helps to have a teacher who has earned a teaching certification or a master's degree. Both are expensive, time-consuming credentials that almost every district expects teachers to acquire; neither makes a difference in the classroom. Test scores, graduate degrees, and certifications - as much as they appear related to teaching prowess - turn out to be about as useful in predicting success as having a quarterback throw footballs into a bunch of garbage cans.

I love this point:

In teaching, the implications are even more profound. They suggest that we shouldn't be raising standards. We should be lowering them, because there is no point in raising standards if standards don't track with what we care about. Teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree - and teachers should be judged after they have started their jobs, not before. That means that the profession needs to start the equivalent of Ed Deutschlander's training camp. It needs an apprenticeship system that allows candidates to be rigorously evaluated. Kane and Staiger have calculated that, given the enormous differences between the top and the bottom of the profession, you'd probably have to try out four candidates to find one good teacher. That means tenure can't be routinely awarded, the way it is now. Currently, the salary structure of the teaching profession is highly rigid, and that would also have to change in a world where we want to rate teachers on their actual pe rformance. An apprentice should get apprentice wages. But if we find eighty-fifth-percentile teachers who can teach a year and a half.s material in one year, we're going to have to pay them a lot - both because we want them to stay and because the only way to get people to try out for what will suddenly be a high-risk profession is to offer those who survive the winnowing a healthy reward.

This explains one of the reasons why public schools do such a poor job. They are not sifting for good teachers. They are sifting for certified teachers, some of which do a good job, and some of which do a poor job.

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


Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

Chubb and Moe supported relaxation of teacher credential requirements in their Brookings study __What Price Democracy? Politics, Markets, & America's Schools__. Apprenticeship makes much more sense that College of Education coursework. Apprenticeship might reduce the risk associated with abolition of tenure. Schools could hire prospective teachers as teachers' aides, graders, department gofers, and in-house substitutes. This would give schools a chance to see how well the apprentice worked with kids. Paid apprenticeship would replace costly college tuition.

This will not happen until the US has a competitive market in education services. No responsible parent will wait for politicias to see the light. Homeschool.

Anonymous said...

Henry, the best teacher I ever saw was the one I did my student teaching under. She had come from a private college that mandated a yearlong apprenticeship. In Texas, my mandated student teaching time lasted less than a semester, and included only a few weeks (3 or 4) of time where I was the actual teacher all day long.

The result was that my first year of teaching was trial by fire. I had no mentor or advisor. I was thoroughly unprepared by my student teaching.

Sebastian said...

I've always been fond of Heinlein's suggestion that education is what people are willing to pay someone to teach them. (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress)
We tend to pay teachers for students who attend, not what they learn. And there is no apparent cost to the student of receiving an education, so they are encouraged to have contempt for the process.

But an apprenticeship program would be a great idea. When I did a program of alternate certification/MS Ed, we had to do a classroom observation course as one of our intro courses. Some people decided right there that teaching was not for them. But even after completing the masters' program, I would have had a hard learning curve in a classroom.

Crimson Wife said...

There's also the issue that different individuals are best suited for different teaching environments. We need to make it easier for teachers to move from one school to another so that they can find the one that will allow them to perform their best. The current system heavily discourages movement and many folks quit the profession entirely when all they really needed was a change in venue.

We all know folks working in the corporate world who went from average performance (or even underperformance) at one firm to stellar performance at another. All they needed was the right "fit".

ProntoLessons said...

Great post.

The best teachers in life that I ever had were my parents - I don't think that's an eye-opening headline.

And this is why homeschooling, when done right, can be really successful - because it's us parents taking charge of our childrens' educations.

As for certifications - loved the highlighted comments in the article.

Thanks for posting this.