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How Much Difference Does the Teacher Make?

Studies show the single most important factor in your child’s eduction is teacher quality.

Great teachers set high expectations and clear objectives; are prepared, organized subject-matter experts; engage and relate to students; and consistently show they care about the young people they teach.  But how does a school know they are hiring teachers with the skills to help all students succeed?

Turns out, they don’t.  Sadly, only about 1 in 4 teachers hired have the essential “it” teaching qualities.  A New Yorker article on education hiring reports on research by Thomas J. Kane, an economist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth.  They conclude that schools would probably have to test four candidates to find one good teacher.  Furthermore, teacher test scores, graduate degrees, and teaching certifications have little connection to student achievement.

The article also features the dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Bob Pianta, whose team “developed a system for evaluating various competencies relating to student-teacher interaction. Among them is regard for student perspective; that is, a teacher’s knack for allowing students some flexibility in how they become engaged in the classroom.”

This evaluation tool, known as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, has been tested in several large studies to assess classroom quality in preschool through twelfth grade. Measurements focus on the quality of teachers’ emotional, organizational, and instructional interactions with students.

In an ideal world, schools would spend time evaluating teachers. Then retain, support, train, and mentor those that meet the criteria.  A win-win since “success in raising their students’ academic performances [pdf]” is the key reason teachers state for remaining in the profession. sums up teacher quality and student achievement as follows. “A growing body of research shows that student achievement is more heavily influenced by teacher quality than by students’ race, class, prior academic record, or school a student attends… and the most significant gains in student achievement will likely be realized when students receive instruction from good teachers over consecutive years.”

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