Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Replicating Escalante

An LA Times editorial with the lessons of Escalante for improving teacher quality:

The components that make up a great teacher are not a mystery, and there is much that policy leaders could do to bring us closer to the ideal Escalante personified.

Effective teachers tend to have been first-rate college students, often attending selective universities, according to research gathered by the National Council on Teacher Quality. In fact, there's also a correlation between students' SAT scores in high school and their effectiveness as teachers years later. Good teachers possess excellent verbal ability and real expertise in the subjects they teach. They keep discipline in the classroom while making it clear that they care about their students.

Yet according to a 1998 report by the California Research Bureau, students who enter teacher training "tend to have graduated in the bottom half of their high school and college classes." Many teachers are teaching subjects that are outside their areas of expertise and certainly outside their college majors. Lack of student discipline is the top complaint made by teachers in surveys.

It's true that teachers receive neither the pay nor the prestige that usually attracts the best and brightest; people like Escalante, who will throw aside more lucrative job possibilities in math and the sciences for a teaching career, are not the rule. But it doesn't have to be that way. Even without the admittedly necessary improvements in teachers' working conditions, Teach for America has shown that top-drawer college students can be drawn into the profession. In 2009, more than 35,000 college seniors applied for 3,600 slots in the public service program, which trains new graduates and places them in hard-to-staff urban schools. More than 11% of all seniors at Ivy League schools applied. Studies have found that these new teachers were at least as effective as more experienced, traditionally trained teachers. They often stay in the profession well after their initial two-year stint has ended.

The National Center for Teacher Quality, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, argues that teachers colleges can similarly raise their standards for applicants, though they might not get quite as many Ivy League candidates. Countries with better education systems and better success rates with low-income minority students have higher standards for entering the teaching profession. Finland admits only the top 10% of high school graduating classes, the center reports, and Singapore the top third. Further, according to the center, raising standards for entering teaching programs, as Britain and Massachusetts have, does not result in teaching shortages. On the contrary, higher standards appear to make the career more attractive.


Replicating Escalante

We need more teachers like the famed East L.A. educator. But how do we re-create the magic?

LA Times Editorial

April 03, 2010

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