Friday, January 21, 2011

Best and Brightest Teachers Key to Solving U.S. Education Crisis

Mort Zuckerman, whom I had the pleasure of meeting yesterday, with an insightful editorial in US News & World Report on the importance of teacher quality:

Why is it that the education of our children has become such a national challenge? How could America rank in the bottom third among developed nations in terms of student performance, yet we spend more per capita than virtually any other nation? How is it that U.S. fourth graders rank in the 80th percentile globally in science (that is, the top 20 percent), yet by the time they reach the 12th grade, they have dropped to the 5th percentile, while only half of our high school students are at an even basic level in math and science? Why are there so few qualified teachers to meet the demands in math, science, computer science, and special education? How is it that most teachers in America are given lifetime tenure, with about 99 percent of them rated satisfactory by their school systems year after year, and yet the gap between our student achievements and those of better-performing nations grows all the time? What has happened to an America that once led the world in public education?

The critical element is the quality of teaching. The evidence has been compelling for years. Take two average 8-year-olds. Give one a good teacher and the other a poor teacher. Over three years, according to research cited by McKinsey & Co., the children's performance diverges by more than 50 percentile points. It is better to have a good teacher in a bad school than a bad teacher in a good school. By contrast, according to other research, reducing class size from 23 to 15 students improves performance by an average of 8 percentile points at best. Children with poor teachers progress three times slower. They suffer a virtually irreversible education loss, even if they are in good school systems.

America has to rethink how to attract, employ, retain, and reward outstanding teaching talent. A century ago, schools could be casual about hiring talent—for a simple reason. Educated women had virtually nowhere else to turn for work. In those days, most educated women did not work and those who did disproportionately entered teaching. In the 1950s, when our nation employed a million public school teachers, more than half of college-educated women became teachers. Today, when we have about 3.5 million teaching jobs, roughly only 15 percent of educated women become teachers.


Best and Brightest Teachers Key to Solving U.S. Education Crisis

By Mortimer B. Zuckerman

Posted: January 14, 2011

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