Monday, December 2, 2019

Teacher Effectiveness and Student Achievement

The Gates Foundation put up tens of millions for a major experiment in whether a focus on teacher effectiveness could boost student achievement. They enrolled three large school districts and four networks of charter schools. They got their measurement schemes in place, evaluated teachers, made interventions. They ran the program for five years. The result:
Overall, however, the initiative did not achieve its goals for student achievement or graduation.
This was especially true for low-income minority students, who did not benefit at all.

The smartest observers predicted this result, e.g., California Governor Jerry Brown:
“The question you have to ask yourself is, if teacher accountability is really the whole key, how can it be that from Comenius”—a 17th-century European pioneer in education—“through John Dewey and Horace Mann, and going back to the Greeks, every­body missed this secret, and we figured it out just now? I’m skeptical of that.”


David said...

After reading the linked summary, I wonder: do we conclude that teaching and teachers don't matter, or that teaching and education are bigger mysteries than can be tested for in a single quasi-scientific experiment, especially one with rigid, again, quasi(as in "as if")-scientific controls, and which looks (to me, at least) like a complete waste of time from the get-go?

I note also that the quote from Brown changes the terms, from "effectiveness" to "accountability," from teaching per se to a contemporary buzzword about common curricula, testing, and culling the weak. (Contemporary but also old modernist, like Brutalist architecture.) Surely the oldest story we tell about education is that the teacher matters--and, if Brown is right about an idea's age creating a presumption of insight, can that be wrong?

Of course, another very old story we tell says that education is about the value of rote memorization, and I don't like that one.

John said...

I think the Gates Foundation study was designed to move beyond "accountability," which as Brown says was a dubious fad, and promote real effectiveness. Nobody disputes that more effective teaching would be better. What I think the study showed was that we do not understand how to promote effective teaching on a system-wide basis. Really great teachers, in my experience, are idiosyncratic, so any move to impose standards designed to improve the worse teachers would retard them, and maybe drive them out of the profession, with the net result being no change. I feel the same way about the whole "No child left behind" movement: teaching the same thing to every child, with the same expectations, might be great for many children but disastrous for others.

I have to say that these days I am depressed about the prospects of mass education to do any more than we are already doing.

David said...

I can imagine some sort of super AI that would continuously monitor every student and shape their education to match each one's ever-changing proclivities and skills and interests and general nature. The ones who respond best to a bullying coach would get one, the ones who respond to a philosopher-mentor would get one, the ones who respond best if left on their one would get that, etc., etc., and all of it, I could imagine, would change on an almost hourly basis.

Of course, there are some who respond best to situations that perhaps we don't want to encourage, such as an education that promotes some sort of ethno-sectarian separatism, which I think, tragically, a lot of people do respond positively to ("suddenly I was learning what it means to be X in a Y world, and I was surrounded by people like me, and, wow!, my education suddenly had a meaning I had never known"). Or maybe, with a giant AI in the picture, that would be okay too.

pootrsox said...

By far, the *single* biggest predictor of school success is socio-economic status.

While exceptional teachers can reach an individual student here and there and elevate him/her above the level to which said socio/economic status dooms him/her, it's not replicable on an "industrial" scale. And schools cannot be run like industries in the first place.

My job, teaching in an upper-middle-class suburban district, was far easier than that of my colleagues in the New Haven public schools right next door. Why? Kids in my district were already learning before ever they entered a classroom. They set the pace of the curve. Their age-mates in the city often arrived in kindergarten never having learned colors, numbers, letters-- and too often never having learned the social skills necessary for a classroom. They're already way behind their suburban age-mates.

This is not a matter of race. You see the same thing in the rural schools where I now live. The kids whose families are skilled craftspeople or professionals shine-- go to Governor's School, win all sorts of awards. The rest of the kids lag further and further behind. And so the parents who can afford to pull their kids out and send them to the excellent private school.

G. Verloren said...


Exactly right.

Kids who have the resources at home to eat well, sleep well, wear good clothes, have good transportation, have a quality place to study or do homework, have access to books beyond libary offerings, have exposure to a broader range of culture and ideas, etc, etc, etc, are far likelier to be both eager and able to learn.

So much of schooling happens OUTSIDE of the schools themselves. People with easier lives have an easier time learning. If we want to make it easier for kids to learn, we need to make their lives easier.