Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Highly qualified teachers

One of my friends, a school principal, responded to my last email with the following comment:
I agree that the kids who need good teachers the most are getting the worst ones, but I’m afraid the highly qualified teacher designation provides zero proof of this. 
It is indeed true that simply because a teacher majored or minored (or can pass a basic test) in a subject says little about the only thing that matters: whether children being taught by that teacher make at least a year's worth of progress in the subject during the year.  Demonstrating basic competence in a subject area should be the BARE MINIMUM requirement before someone should be allowed to teach a subject -- it just shows how far we have to go that this is instead the criteria to label a teacher "highly qualified" -- and states are STILL having trouble meeting this requirement!  (For more on NCLB's requirements and definition of "highly qualified," see www.ed.gov/nclb/methods/teachers/hqtflexibility.html)
My friend continued:
One thing that would be interesting would be to compare teachers' average test scores (from the teacher tests like the Praxis and the LAST) in Westchester vs. NYC.
While I don't have that data, see slides 7, 8, 10 and 11 in the presentation I sent out a few days ago (posted at www.tilsonfunds.com/Personal/Ineffectiveteachers.pdf), which measures teachers by SAT and ACT scores, whether they attended competitive colleges and whether they failed the Basic Skills Test on the first attempt, among other criteria.  If one uses these metrics rather than the simplistic did-they-major-or-minor-in-the-subject-area test, the data becomes even more alarming -- for example, the last slide shows that, in Illinois, in the highest-poverty and highest-minority schools, SIXTY PERCENT of the teachers are among the BOTTOM TEN PERCENT of teacher quality!!!
My friend (correctly) concludes:
I’d much rather have an algebra teacher who got a 1400 on his or her SAT and majored in Philosophy at Princeton than an algebra teacher who got a 950 but majored in Math teaching at a noncompetitive college.  HQT guidelines say that the former is harder to get certified, though.  My experience is that the Princeton grad typically has the better grasp of middle school math.

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