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Marcus Winters contributes to the growing literature demonstrating that K12 teacher effectiveness has nothing to do with their credentials:

Modern research on teacher quality makes clear that the factors used to determine a teacher’s compensation tell us little to nothing about how well the teacher will perform in the classroom. That consistent finding has (or should have) enormous implications for the future of the current system. The results of an employment policy based entirely on credentials uncorrelated to student achievement are obvious: we see wide variation in the quality of public school teachers.

The structure of the current system is simply indefensible, given modern research findings. There is nothing inherently wrong with relying on proxies for effectiveness when making employment decisions. However, when those proxies fail to differentiate meaningfully between the most and the least productive workers, they should be jettisoned. This is certainly the case with our public schools, where wide variation in teacher quality persists among those who have passed through the usual screens and earned the recommended degrees.

Just how much does teacher quality vary? An early study by Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek estimated that the difference between being assigned to one of the system’s best teachers and one of its worst is about an additional grade level’s worth of proficiency at the end of the school year.[6] Similar variations in teacher quality have been found in Tennessee,[7] New Jersey,[8] Chicago,[9] Florida,[10] and other unnamed school districts across the country.

Most parents, teachers, and school administrators surely won’t find it surprising that teachers are not identically effective. What to do?

The findings of our research and other studies suggest that public schools should revise their employment systems so that they prioritize measures of the teacher’s actual effectiveness in the classroom. School systems should develop comprehensive evaluation systems that utilize quantitative (e.g., test scores) as well as qualitative (e.g., classroom observation) measures of teacher effectiveness. The results of these evaluations should be used to determine which teachers are retained in the classroom, how much a teacher is paid, and whether the teacher receives job protections in the form of tenure.

I am 100% sure that the folks in the education schools not only understand this, but use it to motivate themselves to become better teachers and find innovative ways to get the job done. Yup, 100% sure.

One nit to pick, but it has irked me for sometime in this “debate.” Notice the author’s suggestion for what his results imply: that public schools need to tweak their compensation structure and also to better measure what quality teaching really is. That’s not at all how I interpret this. And even public school supporters should be alarmed at least a little. For supporters of public schools, do we really want “the system” to figure out “THE” way to compensate teachers and “THE” way to evaluate them? Is it at all clear that there is one or two or even ten best ways? Not to me, especially if you think about the many different objectives not only of different schools, but within different classes within schools.

Finally, the way that I interpret these results is pretty simple: this is what you get when there is not one iota of competition in the sector. You don’t even have to walk the path that I want to walk to get this. While I want the end of public schooling, does this result not imply that perhaps introducing more private competition would be worth trying?

K12 education. It’s a vital sector that has been dominated by government for a century and a half. It is widely understood to exacerbate (or certainly not to reduce) inequality. It is widely thought to be failing the very students who need it the most. It is widely known to be lagging behind education systems in other countries. It is widely understood to be underpreparing students for college achievement. It is widely understood to be run incredibly inefficiently. And more. 90% of K12 students attend public schools. Not even the government itself is as dominated by governmental control. Ponder that, ponder it for a long time. Do we just need to get the government involved to fix the sector? Do we just need to get the right people? Do we just need to spend some more money? What is it folks, really?

One Response to “Teaching Credentials Do Not Correlate with Teaching Effectiveness”

  1. jb says:

    I agree that tweaking the incentives or requirements internally (e.g. rewarding teachers based on test scores, etc.) is a lost cause. I think the way to make progress is to separate the notion of publicly financed education from publicly operated education, in the minds of voters. At least for starters.

    The point is, most peope are fundamentally skeptical regarding the government’s ability to actually operate anything. But based on my own observations, very few ever stop to realize that public schools are run by the government. That sounds ridicululous, I know. But I really think that so many generations of citizens are products of government operated schools that it never dawns on them.

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