I like to introduce readers of this blog to people I respect, to scholars and writers who are thoughtful and insightful.
Here is someone you should read.
Aaron Pallas of Teachers College, Columbia University, is one of the wisest, most perceptive observers of trends in American education.
He just finished a study of why middle-school teachers leave. It came out around the same time as The New Teachers Project report on “the Irreplaceables.” He compares the two studies here.
Where the two diverge is that the TNTP report thinks it is relatively easy to identify the best and the worst teachers in a year. You give a bonus to the former and get rid of the latter. As Pallas puts it, we can’t fire our way to excellence. (It was Linda Darling-Hammond who once said, memorably, in response to economist Eric Hanushek, who claims that we will see vast improvements if we fire 5-10% of teachers whose students get low scores: “We can’t fire our way to Finland.”)
Pallas does not agree. He writes:
I’m less sanguine than the TNTP authors about the ability to easily identify those teachers who are “irreplaceable” and those who are—what? Expendable? Disposable? Unsalvageable? Superfluous? The terms are so jarring that it’s hard to know how a principal might treat such a teacher with compassion and respect. Given what we know about the instability from year to year in teachers’ value-added scores as well as the learning curve of novice professionals, a reliance on a rigid classification of teachers into these two boxes seems unrealistic.
I don’t doubt that there are some individuals who are natural-born teachers, just as Michael Phelps has shown himself to be a natural-born swimmer, and perhaps their talents are revealed on Day One. But there are thousands and thousands of children and youth around the world who are competitive swimmers, and none of them is Michael Phelps. For these children and youth, as for most teachers—and there are approximately 3.5 million full-time K-12 teachers in the United States—technique and practice can yield great improvements in performance. This is perhaps even more true in teaching than in swimming, as there are many goals to which teachers must attend simultaneously, rather than just swimming fast to touch the wall as soon as possible.