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Improving Education Through Better Teachers 446

theodp writes "The teaching profession gets schooled in cover stories from the big pubs this weekend, as Newsweek makes the case for Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers, and the NY Times offers the more hopeful Building a Better Teacher. For the past half-century, professional educators believed that if they could only find the right pedagogy, the right method of instruction, all would be well. They tried New Math, open classrooms, Whole Language — but nothing seemed to achieve significant or lasting improvements. But what they ignored was the elephant in the room — if the teacher sucks, the students suck. Or, as the Times more eloquently puts it: 'William Sanders, a statistician studying Tennessee teachers with a colleague, found that a student with a weak teacher for three straight years would score, on average, 50 percentile points behind a similar student with a strong teacher for those years. Teachers working in the same building, teaching the same grade, produced very different outcomes. And the gaps were huge.' But what makes a good teacher? When Bill Gates announced his foundation was investing $335 million in a project to improve teaching quality, he added a rueful caveat. 'Unfortunately, it seems the field doesn't have a clear view of what characterizes good teaching,' Gates said. 'I'm personally very curious.'"
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Improving Education Through Better Teachers

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  • What would the results look like if the two students switched places? Would the results coincide with the switch?

  • by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @02:37PM (#31382042)

    It's almost impossible to fire a teacher. Read up some of the "rubber rooms" operated in Los Angeles and New York.

    "About 160 teachers and other staff sit idly in buildings scattered around the sprawling district, waiting for allegations of misconduct to be resolved.

    The housed are accused, among other things, of sexual contact with students, harassment, theft or drug possession. Nearly all are being paid. All told, they collect about $10 million in salaries per year -- even as the district is contemplating widespread layoffs of teachers because of a financial shortfall." []

    • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @02:50PM (#31382166) Homepage

      So you think they should be fired on the basis of a mere accusation?

      • of course! clearly an accused teacher is less good than one that hasn't been accused.

        nothing is too good for our children!

      • by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @02:57PM (#31382232)

        And from New York:

        "These fifteen teachers, along with about six hundred others, in six larger Rubber Rooms in the city’s five boroughs, have been accused of misconduct, such as hitting or molesting a student, or, in some cases, of incompetence, in a system that rarely calls anyone incompetent.

        The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day—which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school—typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved—the process is often endless—they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits." []

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Sounds like they are already being punished.

        • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @03:49PM (#31382768) Journal
          Seems like a huge waste of time and resources.

          Should just get them to continue teaching, but to video cameras. Then after a reviewing process, put those that meet sufficient standards on youtube or wherever.

          If they are accused of incompetence at least you would also have recordings to prove whether they are or aren't ;).

          Same if they molest the cameras ;).
      • Several independent accusations and a finding of misconduct were not enough to remove this teacher. This after 7 years of legal battle with the teacher in question. Take another look at the GP's link, it's not just the fact that it takes years in some cases to remove problem teachers, it's also the huge interference by teachers' unions causing problems.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JDevers ( 83155 )

      They can't fire them for an accusation and they can't let them teach if the allegations ultimately turn out to be true. For a school district the size of LA or NYC, 160 teachers isn't great but it isn't that bad. The problem to me isn't the system to pay the teachers, but instead the system that takes seven years to determine worthiness to teach. I think hiring a teacher that required a $14/hr assistant is part of the problem as well.

      I'll give a similar situation, I am a nurse, if I am accused of any sor

    • by jthill ( 303417 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @03:26PM (#31382538)

      So, fire them on accusation?

      Kids, of course, especially teenagers, are known for their measured approach, their abhorrence of drama. And we all know that parents never turn vengeful over Johnny's bad report or whether the coach is giving him a fair shake.

      So I guess it'd be a good idea to hand out the power to destroy any teacher's life with a word.

      Simple fact is, it's not actually that hard to fire a teacher. I've watched it operate over the course of decades. True: even for the ones are who just ordinarily bad, who just aren't cutting it, you have to go slow, you have to show that there genuinely is a problem and not a gaggle of histrionic parents, you have to show you tried to help with their weak spots, because teaching doesn't pay much and teachers who've gotten past the prerequisites, who look like they might be able to cut it, to do a genuinely good job, aren't easy to come by.

      This isn't the corporate world, where people with friends get up-and-out promotions or just get ignored, given nothing meaningful to do. This isn't the corporate world, where little empire-builders hire huge teams to follow baroque procedures to solve problems better addressed by just one competent employee, if you could find one. This isn't the corporate world, where you can impress ignorant bosses by getting all showy with how hard you work and how much you produce.

      These are schools, where slacking off hurts children.

      Teaching shares this with programming: it's somewhere between a professional craft and an art, and anyone who genuinely knows anything about the product can see stellar work for what it is. Most people can identify a happy child with a lively, perceptive mind. It's strange, though: you'd be astonished how many people seem to be threatened by such children. You'd be astonished how many parents never give a shit about their children and then blame the teachers when their children don't care about themselves. You'd be astonished how many parents transfer fears and frustrations in their personal lives into their children's classrooms and start getting hysterical because of a chance remark.

      And no, I've never been a teacher, never worked in a school, never been married or lovers or even friends with anyone who got fired or even needed help. But I have known someone well who was president of a teacher's union for decades, and I've been around for lots of bad or worse teachers getting fired.

      Lazy principals who think growing good teachers is somebody else's job ... now, they're hard to get rid of.

      Oops. Sorry, was that unfair?

    • by blahplusplus ( 757119 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @04:04PM (#31382896)

      I think all the teacher hating is BS, FIRE THE STUDENTS, seriously. I'm sure many University professors would like to fire their students (if you're a prof mod me up!) :)

      Seriously teachers can only do so much if students won't meet them half way and do the work, no amount of excellent teacher's can turn slackers who don't want to do the work into stellar students.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kohath ( 38547 )

        You seem to misunderstand who the customer is. This is a common mistake in education.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by stabiesoft ( 733417 )

          Dead on. Society is the real customer and it is getting the shaft. Parents think they are the customer and as the comment below me indicates, they complain loudly when their perfect child gets mistreated. Consider that these urchins are the ones that are going to be building your house, filling your prescription, flying that airplane, when we are retired. I'm expecting to be OD'ed in a house that crumbles based on what I hear. I've heard a good idea recently to incentivize the kids. No drivers license if yo

  • by kachakaach ( 1336273 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @02:38PM (#31382054)

    The best teacher can not only "teach", they can also "do"

    • The problem is those that do can't necessarily teach. More than once in college I had some CXX level guy come in to be a "professor" who probably couldn't teach his own children to drive a car. I agree that real-world experience can help in a classroom, but just because you are successful in the real world, doesn't mean you can teach others to do the same.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by davester666 ( 731373 )

        Yeah, I had a CS prof who could write great papers, but had no clue about the subject he was teaching. He would have a summary of the next chapter of the book, that he would read to the class, then take questions. We would ask questions, he would write them down, then figure out the answers and then go over the questions/answers at the start of the next class. Repeat for the entire course.

        And then we had a math professor, who was super enthusiastic about teaching math, would notice if you missed a class,

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by kachakaach ( 1336273 )

        That is what I said, the best teacher had to be able to do both.

    • by Troy ( 3118 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @03:20PM (#31382464)

      The problem is that the concept of "doing" is ill-defined. Does one need to be a published author to qualify to teach a 10th grade English class? How about an Erdos number to teach an Algebra I class? One of my colleagues specializes in teaching "lower level" math kids. He's great at maintaining discipline in his classroom, and many of his students actually experience some success in math. It has been 20 years since he's taken Calculus, and he really doesn't know integration-by-parts any more. Should he be fired for his inability to "do"?

      The cliche is fun to bust out whenever bad education news hits the airwaves, but I think it distracts from some of the real issues surrounding education and good vs bad teachers.

    • Why would they? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @04:52PM (#31383336) Journal

      If you can do, why on earth would you settle for a teachers salary?

      And I notice that so far, the simplest rememdy, pay more, goes unexplored.

      You pay peanuts, you get monkey's.

      I have worked with a lot of ex-teachers, who now do things like IT-training, they make several times what they would make in front of a class-room filled with kids, so why would they do it?

  • just pay them more (Score:3, Informative)

    by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Saturday March 06, 2010 @02:43PM (#31382104) Homepage Journal

    i was kind of disgusted by a recent story i read in the new york daily news

    it was a story of a public school janitor who bilked his school's petty cash fund for janitorial services to the tune of $30K

    to, among other frivolties, send his kid to private school (irony meter off the charts)

    but that's not the real story in this story. the real story here is that this janitor made $86K a year?!

    some sort of 40 year tenure you say? no, he was there for only 5 years

    how does it make sense that a janitor is making $86K a year considering the average new york city school teacher's salary?

    i don't understand how this makes sense to anyone in the new york city school system []

    The school custodian really cleaned house, officials say.

    The Manhattan man is accused of stealing nearly $30,000 from the city to pay his sons' private school tuition and other personal expenses, city investigators said Wednesday.

    Edwin Hendricks, 42, worked for nearly five years at Manhattan's Thurgood Marshall Academy before investigators discovered he was cutting checks from his custodial account.

    And Hendricks did himself no favors when confronted by investigators.

    He told them he "normally only stole money around the end of the year" when they asked about $4,000 in checks he'd written to employees - including his sister - and cashed himself around Christmas 2008.

    Hendricks also compared himself favorably with a custodian who stole $100,000 from the city. "At least I'm not as bad," he told investigators.

    The custodian claimed he intended to reimburse the city for the $1,400 made out to Solebury School in Pennsylvania, as well as for a $150 political donation to the Committee to Reelect Congressman Ed Towns.

    Hendricks said he was willing to reimburse the city for the money and ultimately admitted to taking $14,000, though investigators think he collected $15,000 more.

    Hendricks, who makes $86,000 a year, has been reassigned to a borough office and did not return a call seeking comment.

    "We will seek his termination," said city Education Department spokeswoman Margie Feinberg.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by icebike ( 68054 )

      This isn't a term paper. You don't need to double space. Ok?

    • Sounds like this is not just a low level janitor like you say.

      He's writing checks to employees.

      Incidentally, NY public school teachers are pretty well compensated, among the top in the nation, with tenure after only a few years and pensions.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Belial6 ( 794905 )
        You touch on the BIGGEST lie in education. Teachers are not under paid. In most places in the country, the average teachers salary yearly is just slightly below the average salary in the area, and the average hourly pay of teachers is above the average of the general public. Teaching pays an average amount. Not a lot, and definitely not a little. When the numbers are laid if front of people they start running to arguments about how much schooling the teacher has, or how much overtime the teachers work
        • by Nimey ( 114278 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @04:41PM (#31383240) Homepage Journal

          You showcase your ignorance. Any teacher is going to put a lot of hours in at home, making tests, grading papers, creating new lessons, doing committee work. I know because my wife teaches high school English and I have an aunt and a couple friends who teach. They also don't get the whole summer off - there are committee meetings to go to, inservice days to attend, and they come in about a week before the students do to get their rooms prepped and learn about what new madness the administration and legislature have decided on.

          They work much more than 8 hours a day, for a comparative pittance. Sure, they're paid more than J. Random Schmuck at McDonald's, but it's a job that requires a college degree and a certification. Still, my wife makes about $40k/yr on her eleventh year of teaching, which is only slightly more than I make fixing computers for not quite half as long, and I never take my work home with me.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by AK Marc ( 707885 )
          You touch on the BIGGEST lie in education. Teachers are not under paid.

          You are right. That teachers are not under paid is the largest lie people tell about the education system.

          Teaching pays an average amount.

          Teaching requires a minimum of a bachelors. And yes, when you average teaching with all jobs, including McDonalds fry cooks, they end up average. But when you compare them to industries where a degree plus added specific training and internships are required, they are way behind. Add in thos
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by zippthorne ( 748122 )

      Maybe people feel teaching is a more rewarding job than janit-ing, so they're willing to take less pay for it? Maybe it's harder to find a skilled janitor than a skilled teacher? Maybe its easier to evaluate the skill or quality of a janitor, so it seems harder to find a decent one than it is to find a body sit in a box of kids?

      Another interesting point is that the man, who worked as a janitor in a public school, sent his own kid to a private school (as many public school teachers also do. Something abou

  • of State Government there is no chance for improvement in the trenches. The whole system, from soup to nuts, needs to be dredged out and rebuilt and there is zero chance that will ever happen, specially in California with it's all-powerful teacher's union.

    Schwarzenegger wasn't the first to try, and he won't be the last to fail.

    • You do realize that California's education system used to among the best in the country until Prop 13 passed.

      Every bad scenario that was envisioned if it passed has come true. All the reassurances that were given by the pro-13 people have not.

    • by TRRosen ( 720617 )

      You do of course realize the state government has little to do with k-12 education. Thats really the problem.

      School boards make all the decisions with no more qualification then getting 20 more votes then the next guy.
      Poor students live in poor areas which equal poor funding which means fewer teachers and less resources for those that need the most.
      Local control makes corruption easy to hide.

  • Good Teachers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lije Baley ( 88936 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @02:51PM (#31382178)

    How about hiring some charismatic, experienced teachers who will inspire the kids on a daily basis? And they won't need higher salaries - just a nice bureaucracy and politics-free workplace. I'd love to teach and make a real difference in our future, but the environment is just too toxic.

    • Re:Good Teachers (Score:4, Insightful)

      by im_thatoneguy ( 819432 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @03:43PM (#31382706)

      Just a nice bureaucracy and politics-free workplace

      This is why teacher evaluations will always be extremely difficult to determine.

      Both my parents are teachers. One university and one middle and grade-school. I don't know that either have taught at any school that wasn't rife with bureaucracy and politics. "Well that's what you get with government." No. One of them teaches at a private school. Every school I've attended both public and private has been full of politics and bureaucracy. Teachers driven out because an administrator wanted to hire one of their friends. The most difficult part of this process would be finding a way that those politics don't just get empowered by the ability to easily fire teachers.

      I have a theory as to why this is the case. It's because nobody is well payed. When you don't get monetary compensation all you're left with is power.

      Even then I don't see what good any of it will do. I went to a private school for almost every single year except the first half of Kindergarten. In that time I had great teachers and I had terrible teachers. The administration had total power over hiring and firing. I can't think of a single instance in my entire life where a poor teacher was actually fired. I can think of numerous instances where teachers who I thought were amazing were driven to quit.

      So how do we find the good teachers?
      Do we ask the students? Maybe in college. But students are always split. My favorite teachers actually required the students to think. This usually resulted in a large subset of students hating them. One of my favorite teachers would throw chalk erasers at students who weren't paying attention. His argument being if they were paying attention to class they would see it coming! I got hit a bunch of times but still thought it was hilarious. Some of the teachers I despised who simply forced 18th century rote memorization of useless facts were hugely popular with the students who didn't care about relevance and would spend all night memorizing lists of things.

      Do we ask the other teachers? In which case you're back to the teacher cliques and politics.

      DO we look at test scores? Do we want all the teachers just competing to get the best test scores? Can we fully compensate for the students' natural talents and quality and home life? My high-school always was in the top 5 percentile for test scores. We achieved that imo largely through our expulsion policy. Get caught smoking off campus. Expelled. Get caught drinking off campus. Expelled. Get arrested for vandalism off campus. Expelled. Get pregnant. Expelled. Through a stringent expulsion policy we managed to expel anyone and everyone who statistically would be a poor student.

    • Re:Good Teachers (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mctk ( 840035 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @03:59PM (#31382842) Homepage

      And they won't need higher salaries - just a nice bureaucracy and politics-free workplace.

      Personally, I've never understood the resistance to paying teachers more. Our entire push in the last decade has to make schools more business-like. Normally, the measure of a good business is whether it stays in business. With schools, however, that metric doesn't work. No Child Left Untested is an attempt to fix this. If we have a metric for schools, then we can "bankrupt" those that aren't performing. We are trying to fit our schools into our free-market philosophy. However, for some reason, we ignore an elementary free-market observation; if you don't have enough qualified candidates for positions, then you need to improve working conditions and/or offer more money. Simple, and yet rather than recognize this, people complain about "administration" and call teachers whiners.

      Since we can't outsource education, we've decided to put the squeeze on artificially. Give schools less money, while at the same time, expect more. The schools I worked at could use *more* "administration". Our principal was overworked. Our secretary was deciding which classes students should be placed in, because our *part-time* counselor was only on campus half the day. Rooms only got cleaned every third day. Roofs leaked. Heating failed. Our school had no librarian. There was no music program. There was no dance program. There was one visual arts teacher. After-school programs died as their funding was cut. What an inspiring place for a student to be. Really expresses the concern society has for their education.

      And you've got curriculums that are created are created by textbook makers and suits far removed from the realities of students. You can't teach something to someone who doesn't care. But "inspiration" is secondary. Spend a week studying imaginary numbers that culminates in students who actually understand what they're looking at when they see the Mandelbrot Set, and, officially, you've wasted a week, cause that isn't on the tests. Spend a week working through some of the details and mathematics of how, exactly, your voice is transmitted from your cell phone to mine (something students are always *very* interested in), and, officially, you've now wasted two weeks. And the tests will show that you're behind. You must be a bad teacher.

      I often think that our society's vision for teachers is to remove all individuality, all wiggle-room, all deviations from the norm. In our attempts to make sure that curriculum is presented exactly equally to all students in all schools, we will soon remove teachers all together and replace them with DVD's.

  • What I don't see. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by headkase ( 533448 )
    How about exploring this for a bit: perhaps the student has bigger things to worry about. Like say whether or not they are going to get shot on their way to class, or if that crack dealer is going to pummel them because one of their friends owes him. You know, just sayin' that its a whole problem. Drugs in schools are a huge problem and prohibition has only made it worse, education is what is needed, ironically, of wider issues than just the "teachers" in isolation.
    • Drugs outside school are a police problem, but easy enough to interdict in school. Run K-9 units through every day, have lockers with screens instead of opaque doors, and turn problem schools into mini-police states because nothing else works.

      Expel the bad kids in order to save the good ones who don't deserve to live in a Hellmouth. If one must pretend there is hope for the total thugs, send them to a school where they won't ruin things for the youth who actually want a future.

      Imposed discipline is the foun

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @02:55PM (#31382210)

    In my personal experience, students are the best judge of teachers, once they reach the JR High/Middle school and are exposed to more than one teacher at a time. Grade school kids usually have nothing to compare with "She who must be obeyed".

    Looking back, students can identify the best teachers they ever had, those that got them interested in subjects, who got points across, who came prepared, and who usually had a closet full of source material accumulated over the years.

    In a move that would surely bring the swat team today, we were handed a Civil war rifle to examine (inert), often instructed by "The general" in full period uniform (regardless of the period being discussed), and howled in laughter as a canoe paddle and coon skin cap was produced from under the desk and he paddled his desk chair across the room.

    This kind of imaginative teaching is now gone. Instead we have dumbed down books and teachers instructed to follow it to the letter.

    I suspect everyone can think back on their education and immediately identify a particular teacher that made an impression. Both good and bad. And more often than not that teacher will not have been the one teaching their favorite subject.

    • I don't understand why Jr. High and High School students don't fill out evaluations of their teachers, just like in universities. Even though some students will say immature stuff, I am guessing that they are the best way to meter a teacher's performance.
  • 1 teachers should go down for treason if they can't teach but keep trying to
    2 every administrator should be required to put in say 2 "credit hours" of teaching every year
    (unless it can be proven they are geniuses at admin but can't teach)
    3 the first 3 years of teaching should be done by folks that are a combo of MR Rogers and Judge Dred
    4 most of the first 3 years should be focused on A that you can learn B respect for others C how to teach yourself
    (who cares that a 5 year old only knows 1 language if said k

  • by plopez ( 54068 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @02:56PM (#31382224) Journal

    The classroom is a complicated and unconstrained environment. It is unconstrained since there are so many outside forces at work a teacher does not have control over. How do you select and train good teachers, even if you could identify them? Do you fire an bad teacher after the first year or give them time to develop?

    Do you test people? How do you know they just aren't good at taking tests?

    Another thing I heard (I can't find the reference) is that fewer students in the classroom make a difference. Are we willing to pay for better education or is this just another lame half-hearted attempt?

    And let's not talk about charter schools. There is evidence they are no better than public schools. If we fix either charter or public schools we may be able to fix the other. []

    • by spaceman375 ( 780812 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @03:30PM (#31382574)

      Peer review. Not from the other teachers who work at the same school, but from teachers all over the state or country:
      What I envision is that all teachers should log some 4 or 5 hours per month watching a video feed of a few randomly chosen teachers, and then give those teachers (and their bosses) feedback. This will lead to both nurturing the good teachers and quicker identification of those who should not be in charge of kids. Even those who are watching may learn something from seeing another's approach. Good all around.
      The feedback should not be anonymous to avoid the occaisional personal connection that may arise. A bad review from your husband's ex should be challengable.

  • Consultant-Teachers? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by beaverbrother ( 586749 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @03:04PM (#31382292)
    I wouldn't be surprised if there are a lot of people who want to teach, but want to work a regular job as well. I'm not sure how it would work logistically, but it would be nice if they were able to sign up as a "consultant-teacher" to teach one class in their area of expertise with no long term commitment.
  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @03:06PM (#31382312) Journal

    As free, independant thinking geeks, we like to disparage authority. I feel wierd saying it, but in my experience authority is important.

    You have to understand what I mean by "authority". It doesn't mean hitting people with rulers, or being stern all the time. It's something more like leadership. You just know it when you see it.

    I spent 3 years in a private school that, while it had its failings, seemed to know how to control a classroom. (note, this is a 30 year old memory from when I was a kid, so I could be wrong; but these are the impressions I got)

    Teacher walks in. Students get quiet. End of story.

    You can't learn when the students are running the classroom, at least not when they're running it out of their id, which is where most kids operate. Yes, I'm aware of alternative schools where kids have free reign and positive outcomes; but there's some selectivity going on there. Trying to apply that en masse would be a mistake, IMHO.

    Anyway, at the private school we had a very charismatic teacher who was in a bus accident. We went through at least two replacements until we found one that could command respect and control the classroom. The other two literally got spitballed out of class! In private school, this was not tolerated, and while individual kids would get punished if they got caught, it was also recognized that the teacher couldn't command respect or attention.

    Now, all of this is very squishy. That's too bad. Either you've got it or you don't. That's all we know now. Maybe in the future we'll be able to run accurate psychological profiles that will prevent non-authoritative individuals from trying to run K-12 classrooms; but for now, firing is the only thing that works; ie, trial and error.

  • there aren't enough teachers now. How can we start firing them?

    Fact of the matter is that any solution to fix failing schools will cost money they don't have (thats why their failing). Any real solution requires fixing school funding. That either means huge federal grants. (to districts full of local corruption already) or and end to localized funding with funding and control moving to the state level and that will never happen as the rich districts will never allow an even field.

  • What about... (Score:2, Insightful)

    ..Class size? As a science teacher, I fully agree with all the comments about the difficulty of firing teachers, and the effect of teachers of pupils performance, BUT in terms of my own teaching - if the school cannot afford enough teachers and class sizes are made larger - not even the best teacher in the world can make that much of a difference. On the other hand, fewer students with even a bad teacher will do better. Also, the government (UK in this case) should stop changing the sylabus or current fad
  • because that way, no additional work or money is required by the complainer to solve the problem.

  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @03:14PM (#31382406) Homepage

    The Newsweek article is about getting rid of incompetent teachers. The NYT article is mainly about figuring out specific teaching techniques that are effective. I doubt that either of these will have any positive effect on K-12 education in the U.S. -- in fact, I'm convinced that essentially nothing that our society does as a whole can have any significant effect on average educational outcomes.

    Our school system sends kids to schools near where they live. Where you live correlates with your family's income and education. By the time a kid is old enough for school, a number of extremely powerful factors have been at work in determining how well the kid will do in school. One kid grows up in a house full of books; the parents subscribe to newspapers; the adults talk about intellectual things at the dinner table. The other kid grows up in a house with no books or newspapers; the parents spend their free time watching TV.

    Let's say the authors of the Newsweek article get their way, and bad teachers are fired. The problem is that (a) the school now has to hire a replacement, and (b) there's a reason why the school hired a lousy candidate the first time around. There is a job market for schoolteachers. The reason the school hired a lousy candidate the first time around was because they had a lousy pool of applicants. Why did they have a lousy pool of applicants? Most likely because this is a school where 90% of the kids qualify for the free lunch program. The best teachers generally don't want to teach in that kind of environment. They know that if they teach in that environment, they're getting the kids who have been growing up with TV and no books. They know they're going to spend more time on discipline than on academics. They know that a lot of the families are financially unstable, so they're always on the move; of the faces in the classroom on the first day of class, maybe 40% will have been replaced with new faces by the last day of the year.

    The NYT article talks about improving specific skills that teachers need. But they also admit that that can't make up for lack of subject knowledge, especially in math. As one of the articles notes, teaching and nursing are no longer the only career options for smart, talented women. I'm a college professor, and when I taught classes specifically targeted at preservice K-12 teachers, they were the worst students I'd ever had. In the job market, the vast majority of people applying for K-12 teaching jobs are just not such great students. In the US, 80% of them have bachelor's degrees education, meaning that they basically got a diploma without ever having to learn a deep and specific body of knowledge in any particular subject. Sure, a few people do go to highly selective schools, get stellar grades in a real academic subject, and then move on to a career in K-12 teaching. The problem is that those people are few and far between. When they go on the job market, they have their pick of schools. Most of them are going to end up in affluent, suburban districts.

  • Prental Involment? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YesDinosaursDidExist ( 1268920 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @03:15PM (#31382426)
    We are forgetting a very important part of the formula here: the parents. In many "at risk" districts teachers spend more than half their day making sure the kids aren't hungry, are behaving in class, have their homework completed, and have the supplies that they need like pencils. Why is all this happening? Because the parents are not involved in their kids lives. Either they simply don't give a shit, or they are working more than 40 hours a week just to put food on the table. No matter how good a teacher is, if the kid's home life sucks, or they are more worried about if they are going to be eating, they will never succeed.
    • by fishexe ( 168879 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @06:32PM (#31384136) Homepage

      In many "at risk" districts teachers spend more than half their day making sure the kids aren't hungry, are behaving in class, have their homework completed, and have the supplies that they need like pencils.

      I can't speak to a wider trend, but I can verify this in the case of at least one public school. My wife teaches 9th graders and regularly brings food for her students just to make sure they have eaten, because there isn't any at home. She also gives them books that she's finished reading, because otherwise they wouldn't have any at home. Turns out when somebody actually takes the time to figure out what they're interested in, and then provides those books, these kids really like to read.

  • Some of my greatest teachers I had were at a private school I attended (I know, I know "liberal elite" and so on).

    One of them changed my life by getting me interested in computers, another nourished my creative side in architecture.

    Did these teachers have to go through a huge bureaucracy? Did they have to get endless "certifications"? No, they merely had to demonstrate that they were GREAT (probably to a small board of their peers or parents).

    I can draw a direct line from the interest those teachers spark

  • by Alaska Jack ( 679307 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @03:28PM (#31382564) Journal

    L.A. Weekly:

    In the past decade, [school district] officials spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven of the district's 33,000 teachers for poor classroom performance — and only four were fired, during legal struggles that wore on, on average, for five years each. Two of the three others were paid large settlements, and one was reinstated. The average cost of each battle is $500,000.

    [Note that, in one of nation's largest school districts, that's less than one ATTEMPTED firing per year]

    We also discovered that 32 underperforming teachers were initially recommended for firing, but then secretly paid $50,000 by the district, on average, to leave without a fight. Moreover, 66 unnamed teachers are being continually recycled through a costly mentoring and retraining program but failing to improve, and another 400 anonymous teachers have been ordered to attend the retraining.

    - AJ

  • not everyone can be a fantastic teacher (in the same way that not everyone can be a concert pianist) no matter how well they are trained. and there aren't enough people with the temperament, focus, love, patience and understanding that make up a fantastic teacher to teach every child on every subject.

    unless you're very wealthy (and probably even then) your children are going to have teachers that are not inspirational. and perhaps they're not even particularly well informed. or perhaps your child's teacher is truly inspirational, but it turns out that he or she is not inspirational in a way that works for your child. your child will spend day after day, hour after hour sitting through interminable lectures and stupid pointless presentations. they will get useless comments on their school work and they'll bring home ridiculous assignments. And just in case you think it's just in your imagination, your neighbor's lod will be assigned to a more capable teacher in the same subject.

    well clearly, due to this terrible misfortune, your child will end up working at a gas station for the rest of his life.

    it seems to me that many parents look on education as some sort of passive process (your kid goes to school for 12 years and comes out Enhanced With Knowledge® ). so when they see their child struggling in school they naturally think the school is broken. they want better teachers and better facilities to put the knowledge into their child! Well, it couldn't hurt. But real learning happens only when the student is actively involved in the process. Yes, excellent teachers know how to make subjects come alive for their students, but students need to be able to inspire themselves.

    If it takes an army of miraculous teachers to get a person to graduate high school, that person is going to have serious issues when they confront a world full of people who aren't exerting every particle of effort into making them successful.

  • New Approach (Score:5, Insightful)

    by McBeer ( 714119 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @03:44PM (#31382712) Homepage
    I've had 70+ teachers over the years. Maybe 4 of them were "bad". On the other hand, I've had to be in class with hundreds of lazy, disruptive, and/or stupid students who waste the entire class' time. If we got rid of the dead weight students, we could improve as a whole.
  • Not So Fast (Score:3, Interesting)

    by b4upoo ( 166390 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @04:04PM (#31382894)

    Teachers can not be fairly judged by the success of their students. We know as an absolute fact that the wealth of the student's home is by far the major factor in the students success. Sadly that happens to equate with race in many areas of our nation. In the end it boils down to schools with poor testing results being filled with students drenched in deep poverty and lack of opportunities in their early years. The schools can do very little to repair these children. Kids who do not see their parents reading books in their very early years will never tend to read themselves. By first grade the permanent damage is done.
                  The second way to test a teacher is also not good. If you test an English teacher on his English knowledge he may test poorly but he just might be intensely skilled in the narrow knowledge needed to teach his eight grade English class and he might be the type of teacher that gets through to the students.
                  Compounding this problem are situations in which a school draws a small number of very poor students but has a large majority of students from affluent homes. I know a teacher right now who gives a female fifth grade student lots of attention and good grades because she knows the girl can become really violent. The girl is in the fifth grade! Before you think that is nonsense consider that these young kids are known to shoot teachers. Gifted students will not receive the attention that the troubled child gets. Yet 90% of that school comes from affluent families.

  • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @04:05PM (#31382908) Homepage

    It's well-known, and also my experience, that administrators don't really care about the quality of the teaching in classrooms. To them it's just a product, and as long as the "sale" is being made, job done. Consider the same dynamics in a helpdesk, phone support situation; what is more profitable?

    Consider my sig. First, I had a college teaching job where the union was non-functional and reviews were given by a dean. Result: I had to beg and plead for an assistant dean to come into my room once, ever, for the supposed required review; he stayed for 5 minutes and scribbled something utterly nonsensical about the CS lesson, "Dan's great", that's it. Now, I teach at a school where the union is strongly involved, and every semester I get a rotating series of fellow professors sitting in my classroom for a whole hour, writing a 6-page report, and having a discussion with me about my classroom management, in a very detailed and sometimes picky manner.

    American Educator magazine, Fall 2008, had an issue about the effects of teacher governance and peer review. One interesting finding: When the union and teachers are involved in reviews, they are FAR MORE likely to fire teachers than administrators or principals. Teachers care about the profession, and the students, and their reputation; just like doctors or lawyers or engineers. But administrators have other priorities.

    Read the article here ("Taking the Lead", p. 37): []

    Look, in the last two decades there's been a concerted Chicago-school-type program to wrest control away from teachers and corporatize schools, reducing teachers to low-paid, unskilled at-will labor. Full-time teachers have been replaced by part-time contingent faculty to save costs (example: community college instructors in 1997 were 54% tenured full-time, now just 43%). The majority of funding increases go to grow administration jobs, not in-classroom teaching (growing 41% between 1997 and 2007). Source, AFT State of Higher Education Worforce: []

    In a software company, the PHB's tend to want to take decision-making away from the engineers, and the result is an inefficiently run company (but in the short-run, profitable for the bosses). The exact same thing is happening right now with the PHB's of the school system trying to squeeze out teacher peer review and shared governance, for the same reasons, with all available data showing the exact same end-results. The more they squeeze, the more students will slip through their fingers. But like a lot of American social issues, the evidence can't get through the wild-eyed tea-party propaganda.

  • Why teachers matter. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jshurst1 ( 659821 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @04:08PM (#31382930)

    Former Teach For America [] high school computer science and math teacher here. (I also taught at a school funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's High Tech High [] initiative noted in the summary.)

    First, some positive comments. It's great to see studies like those mentioned in the Newsweek article attracting eyeballs in academia and the popular press. The conclusions may seem to border on the tautological for most of us (great teachers are great at teaching!), but such ideas are largely verboten in the public school system. If you haven't already RTFA, I'd suggest The Atlantic's treatment [] of the same material.

    Anecdotally, I can fully corroborate Teach For America's data. Both in my school as well as those of my TFA colleagues, teachers that continually pushed themselves to excel and improve in their craft were able to consistently produce jaw-dropping results in their students' test scores. It really is amazing. As an example, I co-taught a summer school pre-calculus class with another TFAer in Watts a few years ago. We somehow managed to march through three years worth of material in those two months; our students went from being on average two grade levels behind to slightly above grade level. I attribute this success to Teach For America's philosophy of teacher excellence (which is similar to 'kaizen' in many regards).

    The summary asks "What makes a good teacher?" This is the wrong question. There is no one thing that will make a teacher great (vibrant personality, deep subject knowledge, an M.S. Ed., etc.). Rather, it is an attitude that is willing to try anything (and, conversely, promptly reject the ineffective) to make students succeed. To use a math analogy, it is the second derivative that matters, not the current value or even the slope.

    Disclaimer: this post does not necessarily reflect the views of my former employers.

  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @05:27PM (#31383638) Journal

    Roughly, you got the following groups involved:

    • The parents: And that is already a complex group, because you got:
      • The interested: These think they know better what is good for their kids then the school. Some are right, most are dead wrong. But in a class of 30+ kids, you will have some parents who love to tell you their job. For the /.ers this is the boss who can open IE, who will tell you how to run a server.
      • The dis-interested: See school as little more then a daycare. Get these kids out of my house. You might be amazed by how little parenting some kids get. And yes, some can be reached but you are not renaissance man. You got several dozen students and just don't have the time or even the training to drill down to each and everyone of them to see what their problem is. But don't worry, anyone else can tell you how easy it is, because they seen it in a 1.5 hour movie.
      • The nut-cases: Oh yeah, everything from the "my kid should not be thought about evolution/sex/different races/ww2" to the "my kid is a genius and you gave him an F because he ate the test-paper, I am going to kill you".
    • The students: Everything from the brain-dead to the occasional genius but also from the criminally insane to the... actually no, that is all they are. All of society tells them they are free individuals and you need them to sit still for an hour and be measured. Go to fast and the dimwitted kids start to riot, to slow and the smart kids take their turn.
    • The politicians: Who always see education as a way to cut costs while at the same time introducing some new "fix-all" method who implementation costs have to come out of the existing budget that is still paying for the previous governments pet project.
    • The system: Schools are not like private industry, you can't really measure performance because if you did, you would be upsetting all the stupid parent/teachers who get graded "waste of space". Pay teachers according to their performance and none will teach your brain-dead spawn from hell. If you are rated per car your repair, you are not going to fix the clunker are you? You replace the wind-shield wipers on the Bentley and collect your bonus.
    • And finally the teachers themselves: Most start with big dreams that they will reach some kid and make him shine, and then they get into the system where hundreds of kids pass you by before you can blink your eyes and you are spending most of your time just trying to keep things from collapsing, all with a pay that is well below industry standards.

    And all the time, teachers see those who take their teaching talent to private industry make several times their pay, with none of the hazards of getting some parent upset or a student who desides to file charges because daddy touched them.

    No, if you want to fix education, you got to make a drastic cleaning action.

    1. Misbehaving kids, out of the classroom. yes, that means your little precious who kills kittens but he doesn't mean any harm.
    2. Trim down the management. Less time wasting, more teaching.
    3. Smaller classes, if you want kids to get personal attention, you must ensure there is time to do this.
    4. Pay wages that compete with private industry. If nothing else, tax private industry wages to pay for it. Yeah, that is going to go overly well.
    5. Allow teachers to function at their level. There are plenty of good subject teachers but who can't maintain discipline and others who can maintain discipline, but can't teach advanced classes. So give them the class they can teach. You don't send you guru programmer to talk to the customer do you?
    6. Stop scale enlargement: Most education has been constantly changing, with teachers having no time to read the latest method before it is obsolete again. Adding constant re-orgs to that doesn't help.
    7. And finally, except that education is a wasteful method. You throw in kids and money at one end and hope that 20-30 years later this start
  • The OTHER Elephant (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hduff ( 570443 ) <<hoytduff> <at> <>> on Saturday March 06, 2010 @05:55PM (#31383834) Homepage Journal

    Having attended grad school to secure a teaching certificate, I can tell you that the education culture will resist any attempt to cull poor performers from the pack. The emphasis is on never criticizing and being exceptionally inclusive. When peer review was done, all reviews were A+ while performance varied considerably. The instructors and students "accommodated" the poor performers because I was told "They need jobs too and it's our job to help them.".

    And I'll bring up the other elephant in the room: it's because education is, in the USA at least, a very female culture. You can see the effect of this in the entire process, much to the detriment of the students: management by consensus, emphasis on behaving "well" and being quiet, institutional enforcement of the status quo, heavy reliance on social rules, reliance on strategies like "think of the children" when engaging in discussion and so on. Sadly, this aspect has been discussed for years and since the education/female culture is threatened by it, it is never fully addressed and typically dismissed as not relevant. The female culture of caring and nurturing is wonderful for day care, but not for educating. And what is it our schools appear to have become? Institutions of babysitting where the emphasis is on "getting along", "respecting diversity", improving "self esteem" and walking quietly in a straight line down the hall. The nod to learning is achieving a good score on a standardized test, which the teachers in Norfolk, VA have been manipulating (cheating) to artificially inflate score to keep their budgets and jobs. There's nothing wrong with female culture, it's simply misapplied in education.

    Given that Bill Gates is not an educator, he is not aware that the characteristics of a good teacher have long been known (but he could "Bing" that, I suppose), it's how to communicate and teach those that is still undecided (RTFA). It's just that those characteristics seems to be at odds with the moribund education culture.

  • by supercrisp ( 936036 ) on Saturday March 06, 2010 @07:23PM (#31384474)
    My students are current researching this issue for a paper. My wife is also studying in the field of education. So I think I have a few things to say. First, my dad retired as a teacher, and he was barely breaking $30k when he did. That was about ten years ago. Teachers in East Tennessee, good ones, well, some are making $35k, with an MA or MS. That's too little. Then again, I have a doctorate, with publications, and I'm making $32, teaching 116 students this semester. If I quit, I could be replaced right away with some other sucker. So maybe it's the same for K-12. Next thought. The education K-12 teachers get is a joke. Worse than a joke, complete crap. I've been in the education building, listened to the courses and the professors. I don't say this lightly: these are not the people you want teaching teachers. Fire them all. Burn the building. Salt the earth. Start over. No one should teach anything above 3rd grade without a BA/BS in that field. With an education minor. No one should be allowed to teach anything, nothing, with an education degree. No one should be allowed to teach teachers who has not taught in a classroom for 5-10 years. Period. Exclamation point. Another idea: how about some respect? In America, that means, in part money, but how about we laugh at any smug jerk who says "those who can do..."? How about we teach our kids to obey and respect teachers? (Of course, this will require clearing the unrespectable deadwood first.) Also, how about being able to actually fail kids, at least at the high school level? We should also teach how to govern one's emotions, require physical education, complete nutrition, and discipline. Finally, we should decouple school funding from the individual districts. Yep. If you're rich and you want your kids to have a special school, you'd better be able to ante up at the private school. Otherwise, one big pot per state, with a fat chunk of federal money. And no money for tons of computers and AV. One class on word processing and a few other things. Beyond that, chalk or white boards. Save the money. Read books; talk. The return on the vast expense for the computers and other rapidly-obsolete tech just isn't worth it right now.

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.