Opinion: Finding the Elusive Best Teacher

-Orlando Sentinel; August 24, 2009

As another school year starts, and students get to know their new teachers, two major national studies remind us that the single most important factor in a student’s achievement is the quality of his or her teacher. Reports by The National Council on Teacher Quality (“Increasing the Odds,” 2005) and The New Teacher Project (“The Widget Effect,” 2009) agree with this finding, which probably surprises no one.

Who does not remember a teacher who transformed his attitude about school and, in the process, his life?

So how do we find these teachers? Authors of “The Widget Effect” write that, except for word of mouth, no one can tell you. A survey of 15,000 teachers and 1,300 school administrators by The New Teacher Project found, “A teacher’s effectiveness — the most important factor for schools in improving student achievement — is not measured, recorded or used to inform decision-making in any meaningful way.”

What are these reports telling us — that the public education system in this country has no rational process for measuring teacher effectiveness and provides insufficient, if any, mentoring programs to facilitate teacher success and thus the students’ success? Unfortunately, the answer appears to be a resounding “yes.”

Schools rarely collect data on effective teachers, and even when they do, that data is not used to help struggling teachers improve or reward those who are making a difference in student learning.

Beginning teachers, and therefore the students of beginning teachers, seem to suffer most. They receive little or no guidance in their initial years in the classroom, and yet, The New Teacher Project study concludes, these beginning years are the most crucial in the development of teachers.

The evidence is also increasingly clear that ineffective teachers — those who don’t make a difference in student achievement — are rarely told so. The National Council on Teacher Quality observed, “More than 99 percent of teachers receive the satisfactory rating.” And “at least half of the districts studied have not dismissed a single nonprobationary teacher for poor performance in the past five years.”

Both of these important studies debunk a number of other myths about teacher effectiveness.

To view the full article, click here.

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