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atarah09's avatar

What are major concerns expressed by organizations, researchers, and government officials on the issue of teacher quality?

Asked by atarah09 (254points) October 25th, 2011


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15 Answers

linguaphile's avatar

One of the biggest concerns is whether teachers are receiving adequate training and becoming adequately qualified and it’s a very honest question. However, here’s the big catch: they are being measured for quality by people who have never spent a day in the classroom and do not understand the challenges facing teachers.

There’s no strong consensus on what makes a Great Teacher. Paperwork management? Ability to teach to the test? Ability to identify a child’s learning blocks and maximize their independent learning skills? Ability to manage 5 different ability levels of need in one classroom with no time or a budget? Ability to make kids want to learn when they came in on an empty stomach, with 3 hours of sleep and are worrying about drunk parents? Or ability to appear competent by giving insane amounts of empty work? Or ability to pretend that their stoned or drunk students are actually interested in the fundamentals of Greek and Latin roots? Or ability to understand what really happens in 30 children’s minds and adapt over 500 times a day to meet that?

Most people agree on what the results of quality education looks like, but nobody really agrees on how to get to that result. How does quality education really happen? How much of it is from the schools and how much is it from family or personal values? How is it that excellent students come from terrible schools and terrible students come from excellent schools? Or for that matter, what really makes an excellent school? Nobody really has the answer, but nobody wants to admit it to the public.

When my son was in 5th grade- he went to a “top 5-star award winning” school. He was belittled, abused and humiliated daily by his teacher. My son lost his confidence and was scarred for a long time. But the school was award winning—lots of rich families sent their kids there and they pooh-poohed me off. I transferred him mid-year to a “failing” school where his new teacher was the most amazing guy teaching reading to a class of 25 Latino students and stayed 4 hours after school everyday to meet their crazy-diverse needs. But his school was “terrible?” Not at all!! It was a wonderful school but because of the demography and challenges, they were “failing.” That’s what the politicians have put on the American people.

Then… Hollywood sells us Freedom Writers/Lean On Me/Stand and Deliver/Mr. Holland’s type of Super-Teachers. I love these movies—but they do misguide the public about what a teacher is realistically able to do in the very little amount of time with the little resources they’re allotted. Then you throw in a connotation-laden law like “No Child Left Behind”—aww… who wants to disagree with that and admit some kids do and will get left behind for many reasons?

Did you know that the NCLB law is meant to eliminate the lowest performing scores, but does nothing for the high performers. All the money was taken from high performers and given to low performers. If the high performers no longer perform so high… the lowest common denominator won’t look so bad after all, umm?

Politicians and government officials want to appease voters (both who know next to nothing about the system), organizations want to sell their tests and controlled-lab-results. Private corporates like ETS control the nation’s testing standards and get craploads of money (ACT, GRE, LSAT, etc). Politicians and self-appointed “leaders in education” try to sell the public their next big solution. The ” ” is there because the NCLB was created by a speech therapist who was a phonics-education advocate; she wasn’t an education researcher. Many “leaders” are not cognizant researchers, but teacher-politicians.

But…. remember it’s the teacher’s fault if the kids don’t succeed. They’re horribly lazy, stupid, bad people, haven’t you heard?

Disembarking from soapbox. Thank you for listening!

sakura's avatar

@linguaphile couldn’t have put it better myself :)

Ron_C's avatar

I hate the idea of “outsiders” grading me and it is really wrong for corporations and ignorant government officials to try. The only real way to determining the quality of a teacher is in the future success or failure of their students. Additionally, public schools in areas where they are neglected by tax money and parental cooperation have place an additional burden on the teacher. The only just evaluator of a teacher is by the teacher’s peers, Anything else is just political posturing.

It was very simple, in the military. If an instructor was rated well by his students and most of the students passed the course, the instructor got a good rating. I suggest that teachers establish a similar system and politicians should butt out after they provide the funds to properly run the school.
Schools should be governed by a local school board and experience show me that the smaller the school district, the better the school chances to become excellent.

As for corporate sponsors, I question the value. Coke products had a program to provide money for schools if they had Coke vending machines in the schools. I object to corporate sponsorship that goes beyond paying for ads in the school newspaper.

wundayatta's avatar

People like to look at teacher quality, I think, because it’s easier to look at than other things in our black boxes, like what are parents doing to support the kids’ learning? Parental income and paternal education are the best predictors of child educational success. How much does that covary with teacher effectiveness? I suspect that a teacher can be really bad and the kids of wealthy, educated fathers will still do well.

Of course, school quality and access to resources and neighborhood and all kinds of other things have a relationship to educational success.

But it’s easiest to put the responsibility for educational success on teachers, because that is really the only variable people are willing to control. You don’t need more money. You just need to watch them.

So the concern is how influential are teachers on children’s improvement. Ideally, you should look at the period during which the teacher influences the child. So you need a baseline measurement at the beginning of the year and then a final measurement at the end of the year.

Most testing programs only test kids once, and it’s not necessarily at the end of the year. In any case, the teacher gets blamed is held responsible for the students’ scores.

The major concern is whether the teacher is teaching the kids. The standard is the average for all kids of that age. I do not believe much accommodation is made for individual factors related to the kids.

We all want good teachers, and we probably all know a good teacher when we see one. They are vivacious and engaging and they present the material in an interesting way. But teachers are constrained by official curricula. They may not have resources. The kids may be uncontrollable. And teachers get measured for different things—like test scores or likeability, both of which may or may not be related to being a good teacher.

So I think it is difficult to say what a good teacher is. I think it is hard to measure it. I’m not sure how much it matters—I mean it matters, but probably not as much as people think. Those are the things your organizations should be concerned about. I suspect they are only concerned about test scores.

6rant6's avatar

Of course it’s difficult to measure what a teacher does. It’s difficult to measure the effectiveness of lots of professionals in many organizations.

Personally, I think it’s inane to pretend that measurement can’t be done. There are horrible, horrible teachers out there, just as there are wonderful, wonderful teachers out there. In order to get rid of the horrible ones we have to look at what they are doing.

I think teachers do themselves and their students a horrible disservice by flatly denying that they need to be evaluated. It makes them seem naive and arrogant.

Instead, why not concentrate on __how__ to measure teacher productivity. Then maybe the good ones can get paid more and the bad ones can go work for Walmart.

Ron_C's avatar

@6rant6 it is not that the teachers don’t want or need evaluation, it’s the method. I would never want to be evaluated by a politician.

6rant6's avatar

@Ron_C “Politician” is a straw man. Politicians oversee organizations that have lots of professionals – doctors, detectives, engineers… They hire managers to evaluate and enforce standards. No one has suggested to you that your local council member or board member is going to evaluate you. That’s union grumbling, not reality.

linguaphile's avatar

@6rant6 I agree they need to be evaluated—however, under the current system the only evaluation of “highly qualified” is based on college courses taken. It seems to be the best option for right now, but it’s an imperfect system.

Reason… there are many teachers who are good students, but that doesn’t make them good teachers. Just because a student is good at turning in papers and giving the professors what they want doesn’t mean that they know how to explain concepts in 7 different ways so that kids really can learn. Their enthusiasm, involvement, creativity, pep, love for education and kids, and ability to adapt to any situation is NOT evaluated in college courses. That’s sad because those are the skills that make a good teacher, not the ability to turn papers in on time.

I agree with @Ron_C— I don’t want to be evaluated by a politician, or an organization, or someone who hasn’t been in the classroom for 35 years. 3 years ago my school called in this college professor who was well respected in the 60’s but hadn’t taught for 35 years and asked her to evaluate the English teachers. OK…. get this… she counted the number of words my students wrote per essay, then evaluated me on whether they wrote more words in their second essay. For the kids whose essay word count dropped, she said, “You are not a benefit to Ben. Ben does not learn from you.” !!!!!!

I’d actually love to be evaluated by someone who really knew the challenges teachers face and could help me with authentic and practical tips to help my teaching. Those kinds of evaluations are soooo scarce :(

6rant6's avatar

“The current system” is __always__ flawed. The argument about who should evaluate teachers is smoke, in my opinion. What we should be concerned in figuring out is what is good teaching. Measuring student performance is certainly an intuitively appealing metric, but obviously, “teaching to the test,” invalidates the results.

And before anyone else says “current student testing is not appropriate or accurate,” let me say I agree. But instead of saying, “testing doesn’t work,” let’s see if we can improve it.

The bottom line is that there are teachers with bad habits, like @linguaphile.‘s If there is no mechanism for compelling them to give up bad habits, they will exercise them for 35 years.

linguaphile's avatar

@6rant6 Ahem… you said, “there are teachers with bad habits, like linguaphile.‘s” I’m going to assume you’re talking about the lady that came to evaluate me, not pointing out bad habits that I purportedly have.

Ron_C's avatar

@linguaphile that’s right teachers should have a peer review like other professionals.

linguaphile's avatar

@Ron_C In many schools, they do. Things vary from school to school.

Ron_C's avatar

@linguaphile the trouble is that programs like “no child left behing” place a great test and reporting burden on the schools and students. So much so that teachers abandon their sylabus and teach the test to protect themselves and their school.

6rant6's avatar

@linguaphile Yes, I was referring to the teacher whose story you told. I would have thought it obvious in context.

atarah09's avatar

Thank you all!

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