Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Teachers Aren’t Dumb

This NYT op ed by Daniel Willingham, Teachers Aren't Dumb, rightly blasts our system of teacher training, which is (or should be) a national embarrassment:

ONE of my colleagues at the University of Virginia, a world authority on how culture influences personality, almost didn't become a professor. He wanted to teach high school, but went for his Ph.D. because it seemed easier; he thought he would fail the exacting admissions test for teacher candidates. Perhaps I should mention that my colleague is from Japan.

When I tell this story to Americans, they usually nod knowingly, because it confirms their beliefs about the quality of teachers in both countries.

Most Americans think that teaching is a natural talent, not the product of training, and that smart people are the ones with the talent. So some policy makers have concluded that the way to improve schooling is to lure top-scoring graduates into teaching (as Japan does) instead of scraping the bottom of the academic barrel (as America supposedly does). Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, invoked this idea in a speech last year.

But the problem in American education is not dumb teachers. The problem is dumb teacher training.

It's true that the average SAT score of high school students who plan to become teachers is below the national average. But planning to teach doesn't guarantee that you'll succeed in college, pass the certification test and be hired. The median SAT score for those who actually do end up teaching is about the national mean for other college graduates. (There is some variation, depending on teaching specialty.)

Teachers are smart enough, but you need more than smarts to teach well. You need to know your subject and you need to know how to help children learn it. That's where research on American teachers raises concerns.

A few comments, however:

·        I DO think K-12 student outcomes of teachers trained at "Podunk University" matter.
·        I think morphemes and phonemes matter too but maybe not as much as Willingham does.
·        The data that I've seen says that 24% of our teachers are top third college graduates – and in low-income communities it's 11%, so in light of this, Willingham is awfully quick to dismiss the assumption that the teacher pool isn't as strong as it should be to begin with. TFA's great accomplishment is recruiting top third college grads into the profession, ESPECIALLY in low-income communities! We need talented college graduates who know the content AND we need to train them a lot better, evaluating both their practice and the outcomes of their students. 
·        It would have been nice if he'd noted that programs like Relay, MATCH, Urban Teachers, and Aspire are all seriously engaged in making the training smarter/better.

Teachers Aren't Dumb

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