Thursday, August 19, 2010

Flying First Class

As the LA Times story on teacher performance continues to stir up debate, I just have to keep mentioning that while good teaching is important, the real problem is much greater.

I spent some time yesterday traveling around LA schools via The site uses google maps and gives every school a color code based on their academic performance index rating. Red is the lowest, blue the highest. The effect is pretty mindblowing. Inner city schools are largely red, while those in more affluent neighborhoods, forming a general ring around LA – the hills and coastal areas – are largely blue.
One of the findings in the article was that teacher performance tended to vary within schools as much as across them, so that essentially you have an almost random distribution of performance. What this tells us is that those red schools have generally the same quality of teachers as the blue schools. Of course, a really awful teacher in a poor school is going to set those children back much further than a really awful teacher in an affluent school. Hence the special importance of making sure a lot of really good teaching is going on in poor schools.

But every major reform now in place is solely targeting teacher performance. Assuming we make great strides in rooting out the really bad teachers, and assuming we can find enough good replacements, especially if we target our efforts in poor schools, where the environment is most difficult and burn-out is greatest… assuming all of that. Does anyone think all those poor inner city schools are going to go from red to blue? And why is that? At this point I could really go into detail.
But we aren’t even having that discussion.

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