Teachers might be the most important in-school factor in student achievement, but is that necessarily a good thing? Dan Willingham’s latest at the Washington Post Answer Sheet blog notes that when teachers are viewed as the essential ingredient in reform models, the impetus is to fire unsatisfactory teachers and hire better ones. “I’m no economist, but this approach sounds expensive,” Dan writes. ”If teaching were more consistent,” he notes, “characteristics of individual teachers wouldn’t matter so much.”
For example, we might try to make teaching more consistent by improving teacher preparation. Right now, teacher preparation just doesn’t matter very much. Most teachers say that it didn’t help them, and there is scant evidence that the type of training teachers receive has much impact on their teaching. Naturally, if teacher training has little impact, and teachers are left to their own devices, characteristics of the teacher will end up mattering a lot to teacher quality.
Willingham also points out that a consistent curriculum might also make teacher quality a less volatile variable by making lesson content more consistent across teachers. A set curriculum might hamper the creativity of individual teachers, but Willingham cites the words of one principal who told him: “With my really good teachers, if they bend the curriculum, I kind of look the other way. But I don’t look the other way with my struggling teachers. For them, it’s a safety net.”
“It could be that both or neither of these ideas, if pursued in any detail would prove workable. But alternatives should at least be considered,” Dan concludes. “Teachers are the most important in-school factor; we should not automatically assume that’s a desirable state of affairs.”