Notes From Babel

How hard is it to spot bad teachers?

with 2 comments

Kevin Drum acknowledges there might be something to the argument that getting rid of bad teachers might be a good idea.  But he laments that there seems to be no way of knowing who the bad teachers are expect by “dedicating large sums of money to a massive social experiment in teacher selection and retention.”

This strikes me as desperate posturing:  Liberals won’t dare risk sounding so out of touch as to suggest there aren’t bad teachers, or that bad teachers aren’t the major cause of our public education problem.  Instead, they engage in an “aw, shucks” act by asking, as Drum does, “how do we decide who the good teachers are?” and suggesting there’s no possible way to do so without prohibitively expensive social experimentation.  Seems to me we could get make some pretty good headway by listening to parents’ complaints and kids’ test scores.  We might be able to drill down into the minutiae and get some more scientifically robust evidence later, but for now, it will suffice simply to get rid of the onerous union obstacles to firing teachers.  The “let’s wait until the results come back from the lab” approach to dealing with the teachers union problem strikes me as a bit thin.


Written by Tim Kowal

December 26, 2010 at 1:48 pm

2 Responses

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  1. While I agree that getting rid of bad teachers should be easier, I’m really not sure test scores are that useful. Mrs. Mondo is an award-winning first-grade teacher (on both local and state levels) and has earned National Board Certification. However, I can guarantee that her students’ test scores typically aren’t that impressive.

    Why? Well, unpleasant as the thought may be, there’s the old saw about silk purses and sows’ ears. A large percentage of her students are from families that (putting it nicely) underprepare them and undervalue education — not uncommon in this part of the country. Another sizable percentage come from homes where the language of instruction (English) is not used. And of course, in any random group, half of the kids will be below average (Lake Wobegon notwithstanding).

    On the other hand, MondoSpawn has remarkably high test scores, in the 98-99 %ile range. Is this because she is receiving a top-flight education? Sadly, no. She’s just naturally very bright, and comes from an environment in which reading and education are highly valued.

    Someone who has done some interesting thinking on all this is Robert Weissberg — check out his book, Bad Students, Not Bad Schools.


    December 26, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    • It does seem it would be difficult to rate teachers on any kind of absolute scale, as kids and parents are such large factors in kids’ education, and those factors vary so wildly. But it seems it should be quite easy to at least compare apples to apples within the same school, I.e., the scores of one third grade teacher’s class against another third grade teacher’s class.

      In addition to making it easier to replace/reassign teachers, what other practical ways are there to gauge teachers’ effectiveness?

      Tim Kowal

      December 27, 2010 at 9:57 am

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