Thursday, November 03, 2011

Response from a friend-

I suppose it's a tautology to say that average teachers will get average results with average kids.  But what about far-below-average kids who need far-above-average results to have any chance in life?  It seems obvious that, in this case, far-above-average teachers are needed.  My friend, who made this comment in my email last week:


97% of the teachers at schools like the one I was in need to be replaced.  Seriously.  Of the 100+ teachers at my school, excluding the TFA teachers, there were no more than three where you or I would tolerate having one of our own children in their classroom.


Added this in a follow-up email:


By the way, I should probably note that some of these teachers, if they were in an easier-to-teach-in school, would be ok for your kids or mine, but in the school I taught in, they were not capable of providing a classroom you'd be OK with your child spending eight hours a day in.  Many of the teachers at your daughters' private school – even the ones who are good – probably wouldn't be good at the school I taught in because the skill set required is different (higher premium on classroom management, for instance).


So what maybe I should say is that 97% of classrooms at my school were not OK for your kids or mine, and to get classrooms that would be good enough requires finding teachers, in huge numbers, who just aren't in the system right now.  They're not even at your daughters' school, probably – so it's unlikely that even financial incentives to teach in harder to staff schools would pay off *enough* to truly fix the problem.


In a follow-up email, my friend elaborated:


I would also not let most first year teachers, TFA or otherwise, teach my kids.  I'm just saying that if you take out all TFA corps members and alums from my former school (there were maybe 12), you'd be lucky to find three teachers out of roughly 100 who could provide the classroom you'd let your own kid attend -- in that setting. There were probably a bunch of teachers there who could pull it off at private schools serving wealthy kids, but that's not the point when we're talking about how to fix the bad schools. 


Among the eight TFA second years and TFA alums in the school, I'd let my kid be in approximately five of the classrooms. Among the four TFA first-years, maybe one. We had a particularly strong group there, by the way – a lot of names you'd recognize.


In sum, it's extra hard teaching in areas where the worst schools are, and teachers who would be good elsewhere struggle in the toughest areas. This should not surprise us. But if we want all kids to have classrooms that we would send our own kids to, we need to do what it takes to get only the top 3% of teachers into those schools.


One step is that we need to pay teachers up to $200,000, or perhaps even give them the chance to earn $10 million in an IPO.

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