Monday, March 8, 2010

Class struggle

Recent research in the field of education has coalesced around the idea that the value of a good teacher trumps most everything else -- class size, the socioeconomic status of a particular child, the location of a given school, etc. It's also now accepted that the college degrees and educator certificates that a teacher has are virtually no factor in determining his or her success in the classroom. In fact, Malcolm Gladwell -- writing in The New Yorker in December of 2008 -- concluded that it is almost impossible to predict beforehand who will find that success.

We can, however, look at data in retrospect to determine how far teachers are moving their students forward over the course of a year. The best teachers can advance their charges 1.5 or more grade levels in one school year, while the worse sometimes clock in at 0.5. After several years of mediocre teachers, a child is left with quite a disadvantage.

Now, the holy grail has become the search for specific factors that make a teacher "good." If those qualities and techniques can be identified, the thinking goes, then they can be taught to others so that they, too, can become effective educators. The New York Times had a long story on the topic in yesterday's magazine section. In addition, there are a few video clips that show what researchers feel are some excellent teachers at work.

Some feel that President Obama's Race to the Top, an education initiative with a component designed to improve teachers, will end up being the most important legacy of his administration.

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