Monday, December 5, 2011

What exactly IS a "high quality" teacher?

I wrote this as a comment to The Shanker Blog:

I am skeptical of defining a "high quality" teaching workforce as those who graduated from elite universities and had high test scores on standardized tests such as SATs/ACTs.  There seems to be a hidden classism and racism in this definition as Ivy League schools continue to accept far too few minority students from low-income backgrounds. Also, aren't test scores highly correlated with family background?  Are these "bottom-third" teachers actually the first person to go to college in their families?  Are they the students who excelled in high school, but were in a struggling school where success in terms of raw score is lower? Did their scores suffer because they did not take the expensive Kaplan courses?  Could they not afford the elite universities?

It seems to me that education "reformer's" complaint about teacher quality is a way of putting more economically and socially advantaged young people, the Teach-for-America types, into classrooms.  Frankly, given the choice, I'd rather have a teacher from the school's neighborhood or at least city, someone who understands the daily lives of their students in a profound way, in that position than some young "top-of-their-class" elite white teacher. The Grow Your Own teacher program comes to mind: .

Also, the current wave of teacher quality reforms has affected a disproportionate number of minority teachers.  What does that tell us?    

I'm not sure that Finland, with its more homogeneous society, greater equal access to top-notch educational opportunities, and lower poverty rates is what we should be comparing ourselves to in terms of teacher quality.

I appreciate that this post challenges the "top-third" argument in terms of the numbers.  I'd like us to go further and redefine the actual definition of what a great teacher is.  Perhaps a "top-notch" teacher in the US looks a whole lot different than the "top-third" of the class type.

Oh, and I scored in the 90% percentiles in both the ACTs and SATs and graduated college and graduate school with honors.  But then again, I am from the affluent North Shore of Chicago, so maybe that's not saying much...

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