Most Likely to Succeed NEW YORKER December 15, 2008 Annals of Education
I feel affirmed by the research. For the 20 some years my 3 boys were in the Boston Public Schools and my modis operandi on school choice was: “Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher.” I continue to believe this is true.
Gladwell uses the metaphor of scouting a quarterback to illuminate the difficulties in selecting good candidates for teaching jobs. “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. .. 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.” Once again there is evidence that the ed schools aren’t all that effective or relevant.
I’d like to have a boss like Bob Pianta, the dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education. He seems to be the kind of person who could engage his staff in continual research. I need somebody on my side who is interested in studying what works by direct observation and research. One thing he found is that good teachers have a “‘regard for student perspective’; that is, a teacher’s knack for allowing students some flexibility in how they become engaged in the classroom.” Another thing he notices in videos of the classroom is that “feedback, a direct, personal response by a teacher to a specific statement by a student—seems to be most closely linked to academic success”.
Alas Gladwell concludes like so many others with a non sequitor regarding merit pay. “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.” Neither reason seems true by my experience. Maybe it would be high-risk for ed school grads who can’t “drive the offense” but not really for people who developed the “knack”. As for “paying them a lot” it sounds like the usual doublespeak by the reformers who want to privatize schools and reduce union pay and benefits while talking about merit pay for the few. I don’t buy it. Surviving the incompetence of the winnowers is the real challenge.