The luminous Eduwonkette has once again served up a shrewd rejoinder -- this time to Malcolm Gladwell’s recent essay in The New Yorker and his off-the-mark analogy relating the spotting of talented pro quarterbacks to the identification of teacher candidates who will be more effective in the classroom.
Great college quarterbacks do not always make it in the pros because the context is so different (e.g., the speed of the defensive linemen and cornerbacks). Teachers with credentials (high test scores, education school training, masters’ degrees, experience, etc.) do not always make it in pro-level school situations because the context is so different (e.g., the diversity of children and the dynamics of peer interaction inside of real classrooms).
For Gladwell, teacher "withitness” cannot be observed until one begins to teach. This leads him to buy -- lock, stock, and barrel – into the conventional wisdom (of labor economists) that teacher education and credentialing do not matter much, thereby throwing a block into the backs of those who see a need to prepare teachers before they begin to practice their profession.
As Eduwonkette points out, Gladwell pretty much ignores school contexts and working conditions – things like having access to effective colleagues and time to work with them, or supportive principals who pave the way for the best teachers to lead. There are few more effective quarterbacks than Brett Favre – but he and his new NY Jet teammates are struggling of late because his talented receivers are not fast enough to race past the corners and take advantage of Favre’s long ball threat. Turns out football is a team sport, too.
Gladwell, in looking for answers, seems to contradict himself. He concludes by calling for residencies and apprenticeships that can serve as training grounds for a new generation of teaching talent. As an example, he draws on the financial advising industry which recruits talent and culls out the best after a four-month training program AND a multi-year apprenticeship, all the while ensuring that novices are not dispensing advice independently until they are safe to practice.
Ironically, given his romance with the labor economists, Gladwell ends up calling for the kind of (pricey) teacher education and credentialing system that many of us teacher-ed apologists have recommended for a long time — a system that recruits talent, offers context-specific pre-service preparation AND substantial opportunities to see and learn from the masters before going solo.