Better Teachers


The release of rankings by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has Tom Watkins again worrying about teacher quality.

I firmly believe our public schools, both traditional and charter, are the true Statute of Liberty of this great country of ours. They take the tired, hungry, poor, children that speak English as their second language, and children with disabilities, and provide them with hope and opportunity. Great educators are the torch lighting the way for us all. We need to be about lifting up our teachers and children while being ready to challenge the status quo.
Are we producing quality teachers in the fields of greatest demand?

It is not enough simply to throw out bad teachers — we need to better ones but where will they come from? The discussion flows in three streams. Unfortunately, Watkins wants to take all three.

First, thee is the contrast between mere credentials and actual skills.  The bad teachers and bad programs often deal with failure on the skills/classroom management side. Here the Spartans have made real progress with their year long practicums and supervision by mentors.

A second proposal is to look outside the educational matrix for talents. This is the old Engler reform, and one that has some plausibility. One expects that those who are skilled in one area might be able to be a success elsewhere. This is the theory of adjuncts at the college level.  ere, we could  think of Teach for America as a natural experiment. These are highly intellectually skilled, motivated students and yet only 50 percent last. There is lot to be said for the TFA model and how it challenges many teacher ed programs — a TFA grad is probably preferred to the recent grad from  Lake Superior State — at the bottom in the MI NCTQ ranking.

And then there is the curriculum. By its own admission, the NCTQ standards focus on the curriculum. This has a formal objective quality, more prescriptive than anything else. Intuitively, we think that good programs must also do something on the actual shaping of the student, that being a teacher is more than course mastery.

The problem lies elsewhere: we have created a political rift between the political class and the schools. Michigan schools go under-funded in part because of reaction to and conflict with the teacher unions. The habit of underfunding schools, first begun in the golden age of the automobile, is now baked in by means of political conflict. When we can’t reform for fear of advantaging our opponents — our students pay the price.


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