Teacher Quality: A Reader in 2017

Let me start with a full disclosure: Lawrence Baines is a colleague and friend with whom I have collaborated on several book projects and presentations. So I want to offer some friendly concerns about his thoughtful When ‘Highly Qualified’ Teachers Aren’t in Education Week.

Baines open with: “Recent research confirms that America’s most vulnerable children are being taught by the least-qualified teachers.”

This is incredibly important, but let’s clarify a few points. Vulnerable students include black and brown students, high-poverty students, English language learners, and special needs students. And Baines is highlighting a truly ugly fact about unwritten policies in education: these vulnerable populations of students are assigned disproportionately new and early-career teachers as well as un-/under-certified teachers.

Dozens of studies for many years have confirmed that administrations commonly “reward” veteran teachers by assigning them “good” students and advanced courses such as AP and IB.

Add to that dynamic that the rise of charter schools linked strongly with TFA has increased the likelihood that vulnerable students will be assured a continual stream of uncertified and new teachers.

Confronting the increased bureaucratization of teacher preparation and alternative certification programs, Baines makes his central case: “The continual dumbing-down of the preparation of teachers is not without consequences.”

I would argue that the “dumbing-down” is about the false attack on “bad” teachers as the primary or even single cause of low student achievement among, specifically, vulnerable students.

And the ugly consequence of that assault has been increasing accountability over teacher certification and teacher evaluation (such as using value-added methods) and thus demonizing teachers without improving teaching or learning.

Another repeated fact of education is that measurable student learning (usually test scores) is most strongly correlated with the socioeconomic status of students’ home; see this about Arkansas, which is typical across the U.S.

So here is the teacher quality dilemma: If we demand that teacher quality is the primary mechanism for improving student achievement, and if that is a false claim (which it is), we are doomed to both destroying the profession and discouraging anyone from entering that profession.

And Baines concludes: “All of the highest-performing countries in the world require teachers to obtain advanced degrees, demonstrate pedagogical and subject-matter expertise, accumulate significant teaching experience, and show an aptitude for working with children before stepping into the classroom as full-time teachers.”

Herein we are confronted with what it means to prepare well people to teach. And how do we disentangle teacher preparation and teacher evaluation from corrosive and ill-informed bureaucracy (certification and accreditation) while also providing the context within which we can create robust and challenging teacher education as well as ongoing professional development for teachers?

My short answer is that standards, certification, and accreditation are all the problems, not the solutions. Teacher education needs to be re-envisioned as the other disciplines, which are often self-regulating and robust because of professionalism and fidelity to the discipline among members of that discipline.

Since I have written on these issues often, I offer here a reader to help confront the issues raised by Baines:

Teacher Quality, Wiggins and Hattie: More Doing the Wrong Things the Right Ways

Addressing Teacher Quality Post-NCLB

What We Tolerate (and for Whom) v. What the Rich Demand: On Teacher Quality

Teacher Quality: On Hyperbole and Anecdotes

The Fatal Flaw of Teacher Education: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

What’s Wrong with Teacher Education?


3 thoughts on “Teacher Quality: A Reader in 2017”

  1. So, is the answer let the marketplace determine … law and medicine set examination bars … tests with very little predictability of career success … should we abandon teacher prep and state teacher certification? … Just musing …

  2. In Dana Goldstein’s “The Teacher Wars” in Chapter 10, I think it was 10, she compares the results of different teacher education programs based on how long the average teacher stayed in teaching and observations and opinions from their principals, and TFA ranked lowest versus Urban Residency Programs that had the highest for results.

    The urban residency teacher training/education program I went through was full time for one full school year in a master-teacher’s 5th-grade classroom filled with challenging, at-risk children. There were also classes I was required to take at the university where I earned my teaching credential.

    At the time, I had no idea that there were other programs out there that were different. Decades later I learned that teacher residency programs were the most intense with the most support. From there I ended up teaching for 29 more years mostly challenging, at risk children. I never asked to teach the AP and Honors students. However, for seven of the 30-years I was in education, I did work with one section of mostly AP and Honors students who ran the high school newspaper, so I do have a comparison of the difference teaching children who are at risk and can be a challenge to teach vs those who were almost all college bound and had high GPAs.

    I know this. When I entered my own classroom for the first time after my full year in an urban residency, I knew what I was doing because my master teacher taught me what I had to have to succeed in the classroom environment I taught in.

    I’ve read that this is what most high-scoring countries do to train their teachers and afterward, those teachers have follow-up support for a year or longer.

    But in the U.S. for decades, instead of support, the top-down micromanaging of our public schools punishes teachers from day one without the trust and support that other countries offer. Even China offers support instead of high stakes tests that rank teachers and then punishes those at the bottom of the ranking in addition to closing schools and turning OUR children, often against what most parents want for our children, over to no-choice, autocratic, often fraudulent, inferior, child-abusing, secretive, for-profit, corporate charters where parents have little or no say and if they complain that are asked to take their child elsewhere.

    I think the U.S. is in the early stages of another Civil War. The 1st Civil War started like this one with sides that refused to budge until one side decided to send in the troops and that side was led by Abraham Lincoln.

    The first Civil War ended slavery. The 2nd Civil War will be fought to make sure slavery doesn’t return, and the serial lying, malignant narcissist in the White House is not Abraham Lincoln. He is the opposite. He is an advocate for slavery in one form or another.

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