NPR’s Morning Edition was broadcasting a feature about the University of Virginia’s Bob Pianta and his work on teacher training—specifically his finding, according to NPR’s Alix Spiegel, that the better the teacher, the higher his or her expectation for student learning. The higher the expectation, the more students learn. As the headline of Laura Logerfo’s 2006 Education Next paper put it, “teachers who think they should make a difference…do!” And how do you get them to think they should—or even could? Teach them how to be good teachers. At a deeper level, as my sister-in-law would say, “Nothin’ to it but to do it.” Or, as Chris Cerf once told me, in explaining that it’s sometimes necessary to tell people what to do, “sometimes exhortation is not enough.” The UVA’s Pianta puts it this way, “It’s really tough for anybody to police their own beliefs.” Immanuel Kant, the eighteenth-century philosopher of the mind (and who, it should be noted, was baptized “Emanuel”), believed that we don’t choose a lifestyle based on beliefs, we come upon our beliefs based on our lifestyles. Thus, practice not only makes perfect, it actually changes our hard-to-police belief system. “To change beliefs,” said NPR’s Spiegel this morning, “you have to change behavior.”
What does all this have to do with Chicago? It is the narrative playing out there, the events on the ground, which may indeed change our beliefs about education “for years to come.” The number of hours in a school day and the number of days in a school year will dramatically change the behavior of the system; as will giving principals the option of hiring teachers they want to hire; as will evaluating teachers based on student performance. And these practices will, indeed, change our beliefs about what is possible. The reason we are so transfixed by Chicago is that the deal being hammered out now will be, as [Democrats for Education Reform Co-Founder Whitney] Tilson suggests, a game-changer. The contract will change behavior, which will, eventually, change beliefs.
Is it appropriate to think that one could be successful with 25 and 30 kids if you haven’t demonstrated you can be successful with one, two or three? We need to demonstrate change in learning one-to-one and then can you do that in triads. It’s about a change in behavior and learning outcomes.
Western Michigan University President John Dunn, whose ed school was ranked among the least-effective in training teachers earlier this year by the Wolverine State’s education officials, illustrates the need to better train teachers to improve student achievement.
Let’s connect the dots. If [Western Michigan University] minted teachers arrive as better rookies, kids [in Kalamazoo] will learn more; if they learn more, they’ll be better prepared to take advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise, and actually earn college degrees.
Michael Goldstein of Boston’s MATCH charter schools succinctly points out why teacher quality matters.
So many teachers unions in cities and states all over the country are so disconnected from reality, so arrogant, and so used to bullying everyone that they do self-destructive things like this regularly, greatly diminishing whatever public support they might have. It may well be the greatest asset we reformers have.
The aforementioned Tilson takes note of one reason why education traditionalists have been losing ground so far.