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A few observations on improving teacher quality in the dropout nation:

  • More reasons for focusing on improving teacher quality in urban school systems: As University of Pennsylvania researchers Richard Ingersoll and Lisa Merrill points out in Educational Leadership, 45 percent of teacher turnover takes place in just a quarter of public schools — mostly, the urban systems that help spur the dropout crisis. Certainly part of the problem is the environments in which those teachers must work — which, as Martin Haberman notes, are challenged by systemic bureaucratic decay and incompetence — and the fact that far too many teachers coming out of the nation’s university schools of education are ill-equipped to work in those schools. But as we have seen with layoffs that are occurring (or about to happen)  in New York City and elsewhere, as much of the problem lies with reverse seniority (or last hired-first fired) policies that make it difficult to retain young talented teachers. New York City, for example, will have to get rid of 13 percent of the 30,000 new teachers it has hired in the last decade.  Dealing with all of these issues is critical to improving teacher quality in urban schools.
  • Promoting their obsolescence? University schools of education often attempt to defend their woeful programs by arguing that alternative teacher training programs such as Teach For America are no more successful at training high-quality teachers. But you wonders if they realize that by making such a statement, they are also justifying the end of their existence. Given that aspiring teachers pay a high cost for attending ed schools — and attend TFA and other such programs for free — why wouldn’t they direct their attention away from ed schools? For school districts, especially urban systems plagued by low-quality teachers, TFA and other alternative preparation programs offer them sources of new high-quality teachers specially skilled for their needs.
  • Perhaps we shouldn’t let Baby Boomer teachers retire: As someone suggested at Reason‘s Hit and Run blog in response to my latest column in The American Spectator, it may be cheaper to make it difficult for teachers to retire. After all once a teacher retires, the costs don’t disappear; the costs are merely switched over to the pension system, which districts must pay into anyway. This wouldn’t exactly help children or improve teacher quality. But it would help alleviate the long-term costs of deals between districts, states and affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers that have become too expensive for taxpayers to bear.
  • The next battleground in the teacher quality wars won’t be Colorado (where the battle is already being waged) or in Florida (where the tenure reform bill SB 6 was vetoed by the pusillanimous and ambition-oriented Charlie Crist), but in Texas, where the National Council on Teacher Quality took aim at the quality of the state’s ed schools with a recent report. With more than 30 school superintendents backing NCTQ’s conclusions, expect one of the gubernatorial candidates to eventually propose reforms that go beyond the changes already enacted in the Lone Star State and in Indiana last year. Tying student test score data to teacher performance evaluations would also go a long way towards measuring the quality of ed school curricula and shutting down schools that don’t deserve to exist.

Update: Speaking of my point about ed schools and TFA, NYU Professor Jonathan Zimmerman used the traditional argument in his (admittedly, moderately pro-TFA piece) in his Los Angeles Times op-ed.