David Greene, experienced teacher of teachers, read an article in The Economist about teaching teachers, and he got steamed. Guess who is training the best teachers? The corporate-funded Relay “Graduate School of Education,” where none of the “professors” has a doctorate. Relay is a program where charter teachers teach future charter teachers how to raise test scores. To call it a “graduate school of education” is an insult to real graduate schools, where professors are scholars and masters of their field. “Raising test scores” is not a field. Which economists think that the Relay way is the best way? Tom Kane, Eric Hanushek, Roland Fryer.

The article cites the favorite myths of the economists:

Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford University, has estimated that during an academic year pupils taught by teachers at the 90th percentile for effectiveness learn 1.5 years’ worth of material. Those taught by teachers at the 10th percentile learn half a year’s worth. Similar results have been found in countries from Britain to Ecuador. “No other attribute of schools comes close to having this much influence on student achievement,” he says.

Rich families find it easier to compensate for bad teachers, so good teaching helps poor kids the most. Having a high-quality teacher in primary school could “substantially offset” the influence of poverty on school test scores, according to a paper co-authored by Mr Hanushek. Thomas Kane of Harvard University estimates that if African-American children were all taught by the top 25% of teachers, the gap between blacks and whites would close within eight years. He adds that if the average American teacher were as good as those at the top quartile the gap in test scores between America and Asian countries would be closed within four years.

The assumption behind these theories is that children who live in poverty, who are homeless, and who lack medical care get low test scores because of “bad teachers.” These economists stubbornly refuse to believe that the stressful conditions of these children’s lives depress their test scores. There is no evidence for the claim by Kane that the achievement gap between blacks and whites would close within eight years if all African American children were taught by teachers in the top 25%. Despite reformers’ total control of Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Denver, and (for nearly a decade under Mayor Bloomberg) New York City. None of these cities has closed the achievement gaps between haves and have-nots or between blacks and whites. The whole premise of this argument rests on the assumption that the “best teachers” produce the highest test scores. But other researchers and such esteemed organizations as the American Statistical Association dispute the validity of judging teachers by the test scores of their students. If a teacher is teaching children with cognitive disabilities, English language learners, or gifted children, he or she will have small or no test score gains as compared to a teacher in a well-resourced affluent community. Are the teachers in such circumstances “bad teachers”? No.

As David Greene points out, The Economist knows nothing about teaching:


The Economist June 11, 2016

Whoever said this? “Great teaching has long been seen as an innate skill.

But reformers are showing that the best teachers are made, not born.”

How condescending can this be? This article implies that teachers don’t know that?

“Mr. Cavanagh is the product of a new way of training teachers. Rather than spending their time musing on the meaning of education, he and his peers have been drilled in the craft of the classroom.”

No. This is not new. He is actually the result of good training that has gone on for a long time. Hey guess what… reformers haven’t reinvented the wheel.

This has been true for decades: “Like doctors on the wards of teaching hospitals, its students often train at excellent institutions, learning from experienced high-caliber peers.”

It is how I learned from a cooperative master teacher when I student taught for a semester and how I received mentoring from my Principals, Assistant Principals, and department chairs for 38 years, not just the first.

This too has always been true: “teaching for what it is: not an innate gift, nor a refuge for those who, as the old saw has it, “can’t do”, but ‘an incredibly intricate, complex and beautiful craft’.”

“But a question has dogged policymakers: are great teachers born or made? Prejudices played out in popular culture suggest the former.”

First, policy makers have never known the truth about the hard work in developing good teachers. And, why listen to pop culture and not experienced teachers?

The “myth of the naturally born teacher” is, of course, a myth. Again this is not startling or new news. Why is it to the author, or to policy makers? As for any other successful professional, quality is a combination of nature and nurture. My cardio-thoracic surgeons who saved my life were gifted because they both had natural talent and developed skills.

It is mostly the others who think this: “A fair chunk of what teachers (and others) believe about teaching is wrong.” Most teachers KNOW how hard it is to develop the necessary skills.

Let’s also not lump these all together. “Unearned praise, grouping by ability and accepting or encouraging children’s different “learning styles” are widely espoused but bad ideas. So too is the notion that pupils can discover complex ideas all by themselves.”

Unearned praise is not a teacher thing…. It is a parenting thing. We know the truth. Good teachers and administrators always have known that heterogeneous grouping works best. Again, try selling that to often biased helicopter parents. We also know that students do learn differently.

Again… We always have done this as well: “Teachers must impart knowledge and critical thinking.”

These 6 aspects of great teaching have also been passed down from professional to professional: motivation, collaboration time management, proper behavior and high, yet reachable, expectations, high-quality instruction and so-called “pedagogical content knowledge”—a blend of subject knowledge and teaching craft.”

Any principal master teacher worth her or his salt already knows: “I don’t teach physics; I teach my pupils how to learn physics.”

He left one thing out. “ I teach kids to learn to love learning.”

To infer that these are new ideas and not the common best practices of generations of teachers before Relay and its ilk showed up is a pure and unadulterated insult.

“Too often teachers are told what to improve, but not given clear guidance on how to make that change.” Yet more often they are.

I will agree that many schools of education must change. I have been saying that since I was relatively well trained back in the late 60s. Many besides myself have been hounding US schools of education to do more craft work and less theoretical. Absolutely, they should incorporate a longer student teaching or residency program.

Does this reporter look into the large and growing number of school districts in the USA who have mandated veteran teacher mentors to new teachers?

Apparently not. These districts already knew what Roland Fryer of Harvard University found: “managed professional development”, where teachers receive precise instruction together with specific, regular feedback under the mentorship of a lead teacher, had large positive effects.”

“Such environments are present in schools such as Match and North Star—and in areas such as Shanghai and Singapore”…AND IN DISTRICTS ALL ACROSS THE USA!

And of course good teachers here have always known and complained about this: “Mr. Fryer says that American school districts “pay people in inverse proportion to the value they add”. District superintendents make more money than teachers although their impact on pupils’ lives is less.”

The article warps the image of teachers in the USA. This reporter needs to get a fuller picture of the good work that has been done in teacher preparation as well as what reformers say only they can do. Shame!