Monday, March 08, 2010

Increasing Teacher Quality

It's good to see that the NYT Magazine article, Building a Better Teacher (, is the 2nd most emailed article on the NYT web site.  It deserves to be – it's CRITICALLY important stuff!  We've long known that if we could get every teacher performing at the level of the top quartile of current teachers, the achievement gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world would quickly disappear.  We also know that if all low-income, minority kids got such teachers, the achievement gap between them and their more affluent peers would also disappear.


So how do we increase teacher quality across the board?  It would be tempting to think that the answer is to replace the bottom quartile with top new teachers via programs like TFA, NYC Teaching Fellows, etc., but let's be realistic about the math: there are 3.2 million teachers in this country, meaning that 800,000 are in the bottom quartile.  Politically, they can't be replaced, and practically, there aren't even close to enough top people who are willing to become teachers, especially now that women can be doctors, lawyers, etc.


The best way to increase teacher quality meaningfully and at a large scale, in a reasonable period of time, is to IMPROVE THE TEACHING SKILLS OF EXISTING TEACHERS, as well as new teachers.  This is what Lemov's work focuses on, as highlighted by the founder of Uncommon Schools, Norman Atkins, in his forward (attached) to Lemov's book, Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College (, which is due out in late April:


What he discovered is surprising for its simplicity and portends good news

for the teaching profession. He did not find magicians mixing secret alchemical

teaching potions or derive the elusive DNA for charisma. And, more important, he

did not unearth any truth behind the pernicious lie that the most effective teachers

simply come across well because they have the easiest or brightest students.

No, what he repeatedly saw and captured on video, beyond the no-shortcuts

preparation and an essential mind-set of high expectations, were highly skilled

individuals, working with a common, discrete set of tools, building systems of

classroom culture and instruction, brick by brick.

He could see that teaching was not as easy or straightforward as the home

improvement projects he was doing on the weekend, but he also knew that there

was a craft to it that could be taught and learned. His big "aha" was to identify

the tools that master teachers used to make their classrooms into cathedrals of


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