With the reauthorization of ESEA looming, the debates over how to measure teacher effectiveness are heating up. Pundits and education reform leaders increasingly call for disbanding university-based teacher education and state certification regimes in favor of recruiting talented individuals from competitive colleges with the right “personality” or dispositions to teach effectively.
A January 2010 article in Atlantic Monthly by Amanda Ripley cited a variety of individual characteristics that a new Teach for America study associates with effective teaching. Many of these (such as Ivy League diplomas and personal “grit”) cannot be taught to or supported in developing teachers. Thus, proponents of these positions suggest that—contrary to conclusions supported by rigorous research—there is little that schools or preparation programs can do to improve teaching effectiveness.It was surprising, therefore, that the article highlighted the effective teaching of William Taylor, a product of an education school where he was “well prepared” and ready to culturally connect to the students he is teaching. He, like other superstar teachers identified in the TFA study, “constantly reevaluates what [he is] doing.” But that means teachers have to know what they are doing, and have access to a wide range of pedagogical strategies to use when their students do not learn as they are expected.
In many ways, debating the comparative effectiveness of teachers prepared through traditional teacher education, Teach for America, or other “short-route” preparation programs distracts us from our central challenge in creating effective 21st century public schools. There is more variation within traditional teacher education and alternative routes like TFA than between them.(1) And indeed, a close examination of research on TFA cohorts suggests that their teaching effectiveness gains are likely due not to their individual dispositions or test scores, but to the additional training and support they receive over their two years in the classroom.(2)
In her Atlantic article, Ripley cites a study that found no correlation between prior experience teaching in disadvantaged neighborhoods and teaching effectiveness. But this study misses a key variable: context-specific preparation for high-needs classrooms, which is rare in many university-based programs and far too brief an experience in TFA and other alternative routes.(3) This problem is compounded when the school and district offer few if any systemic supports such as professional development, collaboration, and assistance navigating school communities. These systemic supports are what are needed for talented teachers to teach effectively. And many effective teachers, over the long haul, are exactly what students in high-needs schools most need and deserve.
Yes, there are a few superstar teachers who can do it alone—but only for a short period of time, as they usually burn out and give up teaching. Our public schools, which hire over 250,000 new teachers a year, cannot improve over time if they are staffed with a revolving door of underprepared teachers.
(1) Boyd, D., Grossman, P., Lankford H., Loeb, S. and Wyckoff, J. (2006.) How changes in entry requirements alter the teacher Workforce and affect student achievement. Education Finance and Policy 1,no.2 (Spring):176-216.
(2) Berry, B. (2005, October 19). Teacher quality and the question of preparation. Education Week. Retrieved April 1, 2009 from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2005/10/19/08berry.h25.html.
(3) Rice, J. K. (2008, Spring). From highly qualified to high quality: An imperative for policy and research to recast the teacher mold. Education Finance and Policy, (3)2, 151-164. Retrieved January 19, 2010 at http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/edfp.2008.3.2.151.
Alesha Daughtrey holds a Master’s in Public Policy from Duke University and brings extensive policy analysis and advocacy experience to her work managing CTQ’s research initiatives.
Ali Kliegman taught seventh grade Humanities in the Bronx for two years as a Teach for America corps member. She holds an M.S. in Teaching from Pace University and worked previously in education policy for the legal reform coalition Common Good.