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Improving Education Through Better Teachers

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the best-of-luck-without-raising-pay dept.

Education 446

theodp writes "The teaching profession gets schooled in cover stories from the big pubs this weekend, as Newsweek makes the case for Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers, and the NY Times offers the more hopeful Building a Better Teacher. For the past half-century, professional educators believed that if they could only find the right pedagogy, the right method of instruction, all would be well. They tried New Math, open classrooms, Whole Language — but nothing seemed to achieve significant or lasting improvements. But what they ignored was the elephant in the room — if the teacher sucks, the students suck. Or, as the Times more eloquently puts it: 'William Sanders, a statistician studying Tennessee teachers with a colleague, found that a student with a weak teacher for three straight years would score, on average, 50 percentile points behind a similar student with a strong teacher for those years. Teachers working in the same building, teaching the same grade, produced very different outcomes. And the gaps were huge.' But what makes a good teacher? When Bill Gates announced his foundation was investing $335 million in a project to improve teaching quality, he added a rueful caveat. 'Unfortunately, it seems the field doesn't have a clear view of what characterizes good teaching,' Gates said. 'I'm personally very curious.'"

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446 comments

Better teachers and more funding ! (0)

Dolphinzilla (199489) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382024)

How about instead of spending billions on idiotic projects like high speed rail in Florida (and elsewhere I am guessing) we spend the money on Education and higher salaries so we can attract better people to teaching (and get rid of the losers too !)

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (4, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382072)

There is no evidence that paying more will produce better teachers. And shutting down infrastructure projects that will last 200 years to start another failed experiment in teaching seems foolhardy at best.

The best teachers I ever had weren't making that much money. The highest paid teachers I've had, A) seldom taught, B) did a horrible job, and C) used a lot of TAs to actually do the work while the prof was out D) selling his book.

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (1)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382108)

Idiot, that teacher was excelling at his job - bringing prestige to his employer in order to sucker in more customers.

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (3, Insightful)

gd2shoe (747932) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382730)

Very unfortunate, but true. The best teacher that I had was almost fired because the school refused to give him tenure. His problem (besides a "bad habit" of telling the truth), he didn't publish often enough.

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (4, Insightful)

thms (1339227) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382220)

There is no evidence that paying more will produce better teachers.

Indeed, the international PISA study found out just that. What might help is adopting teaching concepts from countries who did better than the US (which are 2/3rd of developed/OECD countries [wikipedia.org] ). It's not like this kind of problem didn't show up before anywhere else.

And just firing bad teachers is not nearly enough if their replacements are only marginally better. Applying the natural selection principle here is terribly wasteful. I assume one aspect will be a vastly improved teacher education which does the job of selecting good and bad ones, preventing the latter from doing much harm in the field.

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382734)

With a country as large and heterogeneous as the US, it might be productive to look at inter-state comparisons as well. Pew has some interesting data [pewtrusts.org] in the area(PDF alert).

The other thing that you want to be alert to, though, is the confounding effects of non-teacher-related variables. It isn't exactly news, or rocket science, that some demographic variables work strongly in favour of educational success, and others work strongly against it. In a wealthy district with educated and engaged parents who would be furious with junior if he doesn't do his work and make the grade, and are happy to hire tutors, and test prep outfits, and whatnot, a teacher could probably do just about anything and have their students get good results on any of the major standardized tests(though they would face the risk of being lynched by parents if they slacked off too much). More demographically hostile areas are notorious for chewing up and spitting out the most idealistic and comitted teachers with not much in the way of results to show for it.

The ideal research programme, for someone who wants to improve education, would really seem to have at least two parts. The first would be trying to determine what makes a good teacher good. Compare teachers in highly similar environments to one another. Observe their rates of success, student improvement, etc. Compare their behaviors and methods, try and establish correlations. Test the behaviors and methods that correlate with good results to see if they are in fact causative. That's a nontrivial piece of social science work, and there are probably a lot of unionized fossils who won't like it; but it seems conceptually simple enough.

The much hairier project is working out what demographic and cultural factors work for and against education and then trying to do something about that. Unfortunately, that is likely to be a lot more difficult. Firing teachers deemed bad will be child's play compared to, say, eradicating pockets of entrenched poverty and violence and cultural dysfunction.

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (1)

pseudofrog (570061) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382258)

If we assume that smarter, academically successful people tend to make better teachers, then paying them more will get some of these people to become teachers instead of doctors, lawyers, and businesspeople.

No, there's no hard evidence that I'm aware of to support this claim. But I think it's fair to say that many lawyers would have chosen a different career path if they were looking at a teacher's salary in their future.

I actually think it's pretty stupid to _not_ think that more qualified people will enter the field if their paid better.

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (0, Troll)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382386)

I actually think it's pretty stupid to _not_ think that more qualified people will enter the field if their paid better.

Look at this thread. And Slashdot considers itself "smart".

This underscores the actual problem - the status anxiety endemic in American culture that drives people to devalue intelligence and education. People do not want evidence that their children will not be as successful as the smarter children, and they do not want their kids being taught by people smarter and more successful than themselves. They like teaching being a low status career, because it makes it easier for them to argue with teachers and blame them for their own and their children's failures.

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (1)

BarryJacobsen (526926) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382504)

They like teaching being a low status career, because it makes it easier for them to argue with teachers and blame them for their own and their children's failures.

Ironically if they had better teachers, they might not fail :P

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382466)

And shutting down infrastructure projects that will last 200 years

It's pretty much irrelevant how long some infrastructure lasts. If you preserve a dead donkey, it's still a dead donkey after 200 years. What matters is how useful it is, and the evidence is that rail projects only ever take a tiny tiny percentage of journeys. Even in countries like France and Germany, rail is a tiny proportion of passenger miles. What these projects are really are massive gifts from those of us who can't make use of the lines to those who happen to live nearby and want to travel along the rail corridor.

 

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (2, Insightful)

Michael Kristopeit (1751814) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382686)

What these projects are really are massive gifts from those of us who can't make use of the lines to those who happen to live nearby and want to travel along the rail corridor.

i currently live 1 block from a BART station in walnut creek, CA. BART is a multi-track, multi-line high speed train network which runs into san francisco and the rest of the bay area... if the train station wasn't here, i wouldn't have moved here. so your assumption that the only people to benefit are those that "happen to live nearby" doesn't take into account that everyone has the option of benefiting by moving closer to a train station.

Good examples are there... (5, Insightful)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382558)

There is no evidence that paying more will produce better teachers.

This is pretty nearly right. Of the many education systems worldwide, the finest is widely reputed (by many comparative reviews) to be that of Finland. Not necessarily because teachers there are so incredibly well paid, but because their profession commands RESPECT.

That means allowing them the space to exercise their experience and common sense rather than regulating their activities into a series of so-called "outcomes" that have to be ticked off so that petty-minded little bureaucrats can get a good night's sleep. It also means not leaving teachers exposed to be pilloried by media and politicians for their own ends.

We need to try treating teachers as valued members of society, for the fact that they are entrusted with the education of future generations, rather than treating them as political footballs. Of course, that also means that teachers need to be paid well enough that they don't feel exploited. After all, who among us really wants to give 100% when we are feeling aggrieved with our employer?

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (1)

MrMr (219533) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382608)

There is no evidence paying bankers huge amounts is effective; but that hasn't stopped the government from trying that.

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382660)

And it worked so well with the bankers we should follow that model with teachers?

Are ye Daft Man?

You can't teach students that don't want to learn. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31382110)

Ben Stein on America's education crisis: High school students don't want to learn. [youtube.com]

Ben Stein is a FUCKING GENIUS!

Re:You can't teach students that don't want to lea (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382318)

He's a genius at making money off his meager talents. His latest gig is pimping a bait-and-switch credit site called freescore.com.

He makes a good pixie though.

Incorrect. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31382236)

What they keep proposing in FL is not high speed rail, but light rail, which is rather more like a bus in speed, carrying capacity and cost to operate, except that the routes are typically grade-separated in some way and would require significant new construction to alter or update.

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (3, Informative)

magarity (164372) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382282)

we spend the money on Education and higher salaries so we can attract better people to teaching
 
This sounds great on the surface; after all, one gets what one pays for, right? Sorry, here's a collection of links to browse that will VERY quickly dispell that notion:
 
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/edu_spe_per_pri_sch_stu-spending-per-primary-school-student
http://www.epodunk.com/top10/per_pupil/
http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=66
http://www.heritage.org/research/Education/bg2179.cfm
 
Now, IF the hiring and firing of teachers worked like going to work at a private company then the spend more get better results method would not only work, it would have worked already. Unfortunately, teaching is a political hot potato. It's nearly impossible to fire underperforming teachers. Just look at the hubbub in Rhoad Island a few weeks ago. At the worst performing school in the state, the superintendent directed the teachers to work 20 minutes per day more. They refused and threw a stink and the teachers' union is litigating the hell out of the district when the superintendent said they'd be laid off at the end of the year. Here in Denver, where the city schools are wretched, a whopping total of 0.4 percent of teachers were not only bad enough but also behaved badly enough to get fired last year. How many people in private sector jobs god laid off in a TYPICAL year, nevermind the crappy economic conditions like last year? 0.4% indicates just how hard it is to get rid of bad ones. And you can't have any performance based pay at all - the union threatens to have a fit every time that's seriously suggested.
 
The only way to force the teachers to get better at the public schools is to open up more competition. This means vouchers for private schooling, Everywhere this gets tried seriously, the public schools are forced to improve or go out of business. The public teachers' union HATES vouchers though, so it's really hard to get such systems implemented.

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (2, Interesting)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382450)

Oh teachers are special.
They should never be fired for gross incompetence, assessed in any way o even rated publicly.
Especially if you ask teachers unions.

You get some lovely catch 22's with the teachers union here too.
Here the unions position is literally "there are no bad teachers".

One shining example stands out for me... a teacher who was consistently drunk throughout my time in highschool.
Completely out of it the whole time.
Now of course the teachers union maintains that it doesn't oppose firing teachers who are drunk on the job... BUT.

The catch 22 is that the only evidence of a teacher being drunk on the job which is acceptable to the union is a blood test.
The teachers union will not allow teachers to be required to undergo such test under any circumstances.

Hence the only way the drunken teacher can be fired is if she either admits it openly or hands them a blood sample for no reason.

The cry of "but the union doesn't defend drunken teachers!!!!" which you hear from teacher is a load of shit.
They do defend drunken teacher, they just pretend those teachers aren't regularly drunk on the job .

It's not mainly about salaries (4, Interesting)

TheLink (130905) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382384)

All teachers need is a high enough salary to live a decent lifestyle (I know it's relative, but I'm sure you can figure out what I mean). Most good teachers have no illusions about becoming millionaires through teaching. They're not stupid after all. Being super rich is not their goal in life.

Good teachers enjoy teaching. Most don't like dealing with loads of admin crap, or politicking.

So you spend some of the money and resources not on high salaries, but on getting most of that crap out of the way.

Where high salaries can come in handy for teachers are: subsidized/free education for their own children[1], and housing loans/allowances (and in the USA, medical/health stuff).

I suggest that it may be cheaper to provide them that than to directly provide them higher salaries.

For example: instead of paying all teachers high enough salaries so that all their children can go to university, do masters, PhD etc, you just commit to paying for any of their children that want to (and meet the grade/entry requirements), and take a gamble that not all their children will want to do so, and not all would want to go to the most expensive universities[2] (and meet the entry requirements). And so I bet you end up paying less overall.

[1] It would be sad and ironic if teachers cannot afford to provide good education for their own children. And I'm sure most good teachers place significant value on education.

[2] and only the approved ones, otherwise people will be setting up "online super expensive university courses"...

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (1)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382522)

There are as many varieties of good teachers as there are varieties of students.

Re:Better teachers and more funding ! (1)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382594)

Because the states control the disbursement of education funding, and the teacher's unions control the state legislatures. If you threw more money at schools, you'd see more ridiculous and expensive initiatives like handing out computers and iPods to every student and very little substance. The unions fought long and hard for very generous employment terms and the current status quo, and will not give them up easily.

Even more interesting... (1)

symbolic (11752) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382036)

What would the results look like if the two students switched places? Would the results coincide with the switch?

Fire teachers? Good luck (4, Informative)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382042)

It's almost impossible to fire a teacher. Read up some of the "rubber rooms" operated in Los Angeles and New York.

"About 160 teachers and other staff sit idly in buildings scattered around the sprawling district, waiting for allegations of misconduct to be resolved.

The housed are accused, among other things, of sexual contact with students, harassment, theft or drug possession. Nearly all are being paid. All told, they collect about $10 million in salaries per year -- even as the district is contemplating widespread layoffs of teachers because of a financial shortfall."

http://articles.latimes.com/2009/may/06/local/me-teachers6 [latimes.com]

Re:Fire teachers? Good luck (4, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382166)

So you think they should be fired on the basis of a mere accusation?

Re:Fire teachers? Good luck (1)

sweatyboatman (457800) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382222)

of course! clearly an accused teacher is less good than one that hasn't been accused.

nothing is too good for our children!

Re:Fire teachers? Good luck (3, Informative)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382232)

And from New York:

"These fifteen teachers, along with about six hundred others, in six larger Rubber Rooms in the city’s five boroughs, have been accused of misconduct, such as hitting or molesting a student, or, in some cases, of incompetence, in a system that rarely calls anyone incompetent.

The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day—which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school—typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved—the process is often endless—they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits."

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/31/090831fa_fact_brill [newyorker.com]

Re:Fire teachers? Good luck (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382280)

Several independent accusations and a finding of misconduct were not enough to remove this teacher. This after 7 years of legal battle with the teacher in question. Take another look at the GP's link, it's not just the fact that it takes years in some cases to remove problem teachers, it's also the huge interference by teachers' unions causing problems.

Re:Fire teachers? Good luck (2, Insightful)

JDevers (83155) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382266)

They can't fire them for an accusation and they can't let them teach if the allegations ultimately turn out to be true. For a school district the size of LA or NYC, 160 teachers isn't great but it isn't that bad. The problem to me isn't the system to pay the teachers, but instead the system that takes seven years to determine worthiness to teach. I think hiring a teacher that required a $14/hr assistant is part of the problem as well.

I'll give a similar situation, I am a nurse, if I am accused of any sort of misconduct with any sort of substance behind it I generally get sent home with pay while an investigation takes place. I have never been in this situation, but about twice a year someone is and we only employ about 40 nurses. Sometimes people are sent home for the afternoon and then return the next work day, others involving actual allegations of abuse have taken days while police investigate. If the allegations turn out to be true, they don't get paid...they almost never do and so they get paid.

Re:Fire teachers? Good luck (4, Insightful)

jthill (303417) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382538)

So, fire them on accusation?

Kids, of course, especially teenagers, are known for their measured approach, their abhorrence of drama. And we all know that parents never turn vengeful over Johnny's bad report or whether the coach is giving him a fair shake.

So I guess it'd be a good idea to hand out the power to destroy any teacher's life with a word.

Simple fact is, it's not actually that hard to fire a teacher. I've watched it operate over the course of decades. True: even for the ones are who just ordinarily bad, who just aren't cutting it, you have to go slow, you have to show that there genuinely is a problem and not a gaggle of histrionic parents, you have to show you tried to help with their weak spots, because teaching doesn't pay much and teachers who've gotten past the prerequisites, who look like they might be able to cut it, to do a genuinely good job, aren't easy to come by.

This isn't the corporate world, where people with friends get up-and-out promotions or just get ignored, given nothing meaningful to do. This isn't the corporate world, where little empire-builders hire huge teams to follow baroque procedures to solve problems better addressed by just one competent employee, if you could find one. This isn't the corporate world, where you can impress ignorant bosses by getting all showy with how hard you work and how much you produce.

These are schools, where slacking off hurts children.

Teaching shares this with programming: it's somewhere between a professional craft and an art, and anyone who genuinely knows anything about the product can see stellar work for what it is. Most people can identify a happy child with a lively, perceptive mind. It's strange, though: you'd be astonished how many people seem to be threatened by such children. You'd be astonished how many parents never give a shit about their children and then blame the teachers when their children don't care about themselves. You'd be astonished how many parents transfer fears and frustrations in their personal lives into their children's classrooms and start getting hysterical because of a chance remark.

And no, I've never been a teacher, never worked in a school, never been married or lovers or even friends with anyone who got fired or even needed help. But I have known someone well who was president of a teacher's union for decades, and I've been around for lots of bad or worse teachers getting fired.

Lazy principals who think growing good teachers is somebody else's job ... now, they're hard to get rid of.

Oops. Sorry, was that unfair?

Good idea, maybe... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31382048)

But, you can't judge "goodness" on the basis of percentile. No matter how many teachers you fire, you will always have roughly half of your students in the bottom 50th percentile.

Re:Good idea, maybe... (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382142)

yes but the trick is to raise the bottom to a higher level

For an example lets say that a school has a range of scores from 94% to say 50% (or some A work and some F work)
Now a Partnership of IBM and several big medical Companies decides to run a test of their new Computer Brain Interface (which allows the "data" parts of education to simply be downloaded).

After the end of the school year the scores now range from 110% to 87% (some kids did a backchannel hack and got more data than was supposed to be included and some kids could not link the data properly)

Now yes there will be 50% of the students in the bottom 50 percentile but that bottom 50% NOW PASSES THE STANDARDIZED TESTS

Re:Good idea, maybe... (1, Troll)

Moryath (553296) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382388)

yes but the trick is to raise the bottom to a higher level

While you're at it, have you a plan to raise the sea floor of the Mariana Trench?

For an example lets say that a school has a range of scores from 94% to say 50% (or some A work and some F work)
Now a Partnership of IBM and several big medical Companies decides to run a test of their new Computer Brain Interface (which allows the "data" parts of education to simply be downloaded).

The problem is that the dumb kids lack the mental function necessary to comprehend what they have just downloaded. Knowledge, left unapplied, is worthless. In many cases it is actually worse than worthless.

Now yes there will be 50% of the students in the bottom 50 percentile but that bottom 50% NOW PASSES THE STANDARDIZED TESTS

They're not measuring whether the kids pass standardized tests.

They're measuring by straight percentile.

They're also using the old, broken metric of evaluating the teacher by the successes of his students. And let's face it, whenever you get into this, confounding variables enter the mix and they are NEVER negligible. Given the sample sizes, you usually can't even control for them properly.

Do I believe there are bad teachers? Hell yes. Do I believe every "bad teacher" story? No. A "bad teacher" story often turns out to be a "bad student" story - and one bad student can disrupt and hold back an entire class, even moreso in the "class shall move at the pace of the slowest fucking idiot" mentality of schools since the mid-70s.

Charles Murray, referenced in the Slashdot post above (rather out of context up there too, jesus christ!), has also said the following:

"Our ability to improve the academic accomplishment of students in the lower half of the distribution of intelligence is severely limited. It is a matter of ceilings. Suppose a girl in the 99th percentile of intelligence, corresponding to an IQ of 135, is getting a C in English. She is underachieving, and someone who sets out to raise her performance might be able to get a spectacular result. Now suppose the boy sitting behind her is getting a D, but his IQ is a bit below 100, at the 49th percentile.

We can hope to raise his grade. But teaching him more vocabulary words or drilling him on the parts of speech will not open up new vistas for him. It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity, any more than it is within my power to follow a proof in the American Journal of Mathematics. In both cases, the problem is not that we have not been taught enough, but that we are not smart enough."

Also:

"On the 2005 round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 36% of all fourth-graders were below the NAEP's "basic achievement" score in reading. It sounds like a terrible record. But we know from the mathematics of the normal distribution that 36% of fourth-graders also have IQs lower than 95."

The confounding variable is, and always will be, the random chucking-around of problem children into classrooms that was prevalent even 3 decades before "No Child Left Behind."

We have designed our civilization based on science and technology and at the same time arranged things so that almost no one understands anything at all about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster. - Carl Sagan

The "standardized tests" we need today, are a far cry from what was required even 20 years ago. Unfortunately, society is comprised primarily of "twelve o'clock flashers" (those idiots who, in the 80s, would have an analog clock on the wall and a VCR, microwave oven, and stove all flashing 12:00 because they could never figure out how to set the clock.

Re:Good idea, maybe... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31382474)

Standardized test? What the heck is that?! Here in BC, Canada, the teachers are completely against standardized testing of students. They don't believe in it because, (horrors of horrors) people will use the data to choose better schools and better teachers for their children. Oh, they say it's for the kids sake - that failing a test will crush all spirit out of the kids. But really they just don't want us to know how shitty most of the teachers really are.

Those that can't... (3, Insightful)

kachakaach (1336273) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382054)

The best teacher can not only "teach", they can also "do"

Those that do... (1)

saleenS281 (859657) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382154)

The problem is those that do can't necessarily teach. More than once in college I had some CXX level guy come in to be a "professor" who probably couldn't teach his own children to drive a car. I agree that real-world experience can help in a classroom, but just because you are successful in the real world, doesn't mean you can teach others to do the same.

Re:Those that do... (3, Insightful)

davester666 (731373) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382242)

Yeah, I had a CS prof who could write great papers, but had no clue about the subject he was teaching. He would have a summary of the next chapter of the book, that he would read to the class, then take questions. We would ask questions, he would write them down, then figure out the answers and then go over the questions/answers at the start of the next class. Repeat for the entire course.

And then we had a math professor, who was super enthusiastic about teaching math, would notice if you missed a class, made classes interesting to be in as well as getting the material across to the class, but didn't pump out the papers.

Guess which prof the university ditched.

Re:Those that can't... (3, Insightful)

Troy (3118) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382464)

The problem is that the concept of "doing" is ill-defined. Does one need to be a published author to qualify to teach a 10th grade English class? How about an Erdos number to teach an Algebra I class? One of my colleagues specializes in teaching "lower level" math kids. He's great at maintaining discipline in his classroom, and many of his students actually experience some success in math. It has been 20 years since he's taken Calculus, and he really doesn't know integration-by-parts any more. Should he be fired for his inability to "do"?

The cliche is fun to bust out whenever bad education news hits the airwaves, but I think it distracts from some of the real issues surrounding education and good vs bad teachers.

Teachers Unions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31382066)

Cue the paid teacher's union shills.

Re:Teachers Unions (4, Insightful)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382172)

You know the best way to break a union? Pay the better employees more than the lesser employees.

As long as you're unwilling to admit that the better employees should earn as much as, if not more than, their boss, you will always be under the union's heel, and rightfully so.

Re:Teachers Unions (4, Insightful)

sweatyboatman (457800) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382362)

who are the best teachers?

the ones with the brightest students? but they have it easy, their students are interested in classes and want to learn.
so then the ones with the most problematic students? not necessarily, a terrible teacher would stand out less amongst low-performing students.
so, the ones with the most improved test scores (aka. no child left behind)? well, sorta. but excellent teachers who don't "teach to the test" will end up with poorer results than automatons that drill all day. do we really want to disincentivise imagination and creativity amongst our teachers?

so maybe test scores plus peer review? what are you a hippy? you can't have the teachers rating themselves.
right. test scores plus administrative review? sounds reasonable. but what about dysfunctional principles? and bias or personal grudges?

well no system is perfect.

not to mention how do you determine if a french teacher is better than an algebra teacher? or a gym teacher is better than a history teacher?

sure, you can come up with a system that takes into account all the variables, but will it be more efficient or less complicated than the methods currently being employed in public schools around the country?

Re:Teachers Unions (1)

QRDeNameland (873957) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382392)

As long as you're unwilling to admit that the better employees should earn as much as, if not more than, their boss, you will always be under the union's heel, and rightfully so.

Right, because out here in the non-unionized sector, employee compensation is based purely on merit and people commonly out-earn their bosses. Wait...what?!?

I'm no fan of unions, but don't make it out like it's some utopian meritocracy out here for the rest of us.

bosses (1)

manekineko2 (1052430) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382482)

You had me nodding in agreement until I got to the part about the boss. I'm not sure what relevance the boss' pay has to the teacher's pay.

If you're a super star private school and you hire a super star principal and pay him 500k a year, I'm sure you could mitigate teachers desire to unionize by paying performing teachers 200k a year.

The key seems to just be if you compensate better performers better, then they will feel less need to overpay under performers if they feel that it's coming out of their own pocket.

Re:bosses (1)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382570)

Because the boss in this context is the average taxpayer. And it is an easy way to provoke people by tweaking their conception of status as a measure of merit. In many careers, the "boss" skillset is far less scarce than the "employee" skillset, but for some reason people persist in believing it is wrong to pay the employee more.

Re:Teachers Unions (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382492)

You know the best way to break a union? Pay the better employees more than the lesser employees.

As long as you're unwilling to admit that the better employees should earn as much as, if not more than, their boss, you will always be under the union's heel, and rightfully so.

But had you bothered to read the summary, (let alone TFA) you would have discovered there is no generally accepted way to distinguish between the Better and lesser employees.

Solve THAT problem and the rest will be simple.

Re:Teachers Unions (1)

Ironchew (1069966) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382738)

Funny you should mention that. The discussion is already saturated with laissez-faire anti-union shills. "If only we got rid of public education so the educational system will be driven by profit and market forces! The private sector solves everything!" Take away one of the last things in the United States that the public has any say about, right? Everything will be fine? It sounds to me like education for the rich.

The solution is easy (-1)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382078)

Pay them more.

Re:The solution is easy (1)

ShiningSomething (1097589) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382180)

And what exactly will that change? The question is what makes teachers better. Maybe paying more will attract better teachers, but if you don't know what a "better" teacher is, you're shit out of luck anyway.

Re:The solution is easy (3, Interesting)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382234)

Yes, if we figure out the magic equation that produces competent teachers, and we'll be able to apply it all the dim drones willing to work for a teacher's wages.

Let's do the same for programmers! And doctors! And stock traders! Think of the money we'll save!

Re:The solution is easy (2, Insightful)

ShiningSomething (1097589) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382512)

So your point is skills can't be learned?

If we really need superstars to teach, then we're screwed. According to the BLS there are something like 3.5 million teachers in the US right now (kindergarten to high school). There are 660,000 physicians and surgeons. 1.3 million computer "engineers" and programmers. So it seems like if your strategy is to magically select exceptionally smart people, then we won't have good teachers.

I don't divide the world into "dim drones" and "brights". It doesn't have to be a "magic equation". The fact is there may be skills and techniques that make for better teachers, and those might be learnt to a certain degree. If that's true, we'll still have better and worse teachers, we'll still have to get rid of bad teachers, but we'll be in a better situation. More money would help, but it needs to be spent intelligently.

just pay them more (2, Informative)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382104)

i was kind of disgusted by a recent story i read in the new york daily news

it was a story of a public school janitor who bilked his school's petty cash fund for janitorial services to the tune of $30K

to, among other frivolties, send his kid to private school (irony meter off the charts)

but that's not the real story in this story. the real story here is that this janitor made $86K a year?!

some sort of 40 year tenure you say? no, he was there for only 5 years

how does it make sense that a janitor is making $86K a year considering the average new york city school teacher's salary?

i don't understand how this makes sense to anyone in the new york city school system

http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/education/2010/03/04/2010-03-04_custodians_rap_cleaned_city_out_of_30g.html [nydailynews.com]

The school custodian really cleaned house, officials say.

The Manhattan man is accused of stealing nearly $30,000 from the city to pay his sons' private school tuition and other personal expenses, city investigators said Wednesday.

Edwin Hendricks, 42, worked for nearly five years at Manhattan's Thurgood Marshall Academy before investigators discovered he was cutting checks from his custodial account.

And Hendricks did himself no favors when confronted by investigators.

He told them he "normally only stole money around the end of the year" when they asked about $4,000 in checks he'd written to employees - including his sister - and cashed himself around Christmas 2008.

Hendricks also compared himself favorably with a custodian who stole $100,000 from the city. "At least I'm not as bad," he told investigators.

The custodian claimed he intended to reimburse the city for the $1,400 made out to Solebury School in Pennsylvania, as well as for a $150 political donation to the Committee to Reelect Congressman Ed Towns.

Hendricks said he was willing to reimburse the city for the money and ultimately admitted to taking $14,000, though investigators think he collected $15,000 more.

Hendricks, who makes $86,000 a year, has been reassigned to a borough office and did not return a call seeking comment.

"We will seek his termination," said city Education Department spokeswoman Margie Feinberg.

Re:just pay them more (1)

manekineko2 (1052430) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382528)

Sounds like this is not just a low level janitor like you say.

He's writing checks to employees.

Incidentally, NY public school teachers are pretty well compensated, among the top in the nation, with tenure after only a few years and pensions.

Re:just pay them more (2, Interesting)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382720)

Maybe people feel teaching is a more rewarding job than janit-ing, so they're willing to take less pay for it? Maybe it's harder to find a skilled janitor than a skilled teacher? Maybe its easier to evaluate the skill or quality of a janitor, so it seems harder to find a decent one than it is to find a body sit in a box of kids?

Another interesting point is that the man, who worked as a janitor in a public school, sent his own kid to a private school (as many public school teachers also do. Something about "not eating dog food" I'm lead to understand.)

Hmmmm..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31382126)

How about drug testing them before we go any further. Confucius say: Man standing on toilet - high on pot!

Science Technology and Math Teachers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31382152)

The US House subcommittee has been holding several hearings on this (as relates to America Competes and science education in general) for both the college [house.gov] (analysis of above) [wordpress.com] and K-12 [house.gov] level. It's worth a look. For both sets, it seems the consensus to give up on the current crop and focus on new teachers coming out of college / just started teaching, as the others are set in their ways and don't want to change.

Re:Science Technology and Math Teachers (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382534)

Oh, well then, if congress is involved the problem is as good as solved, and we can all rest easy.

Re:Science Technology and Math Teachers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31382568)

As opposed to slashdotters? :-)

Re:Science Technology and Math Teachers (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382616)

Well, at least slashdotters are powerless, and can't get into your wallet, and never make anything worse.

When the rot is entrenched at the highest levels (2, Insightful)

wheelema (46997) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382162)

of State Government there is no chance for improvement in the trenches. The whole system, from soup to nuts, needs to be dredged out and rebuilt and there is zero chance that will ever happen, specially in California with it's all-powerful teacher's union.

Schwarzenegger wasn't the first to try, and he won't be the last to fail.

Re:When the rot is entrenched at the highest level (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382442)

You do realize that California's education system used to among the best in the country until Prop 13 passed.

Every bad scenario that was envisioned if it passed has come true. All the reassurances that were given by the pro-13 people have not.

Re:When the rot is entrenched at the highest level (1)

TRRosen (720617) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382484)

You do of course realize the state government has little to do with k-12 education. Thats really the problem.

School boards make all the decisions with no more qualification then getting 20 more votes then the next guy.
Poor students live in poor areas which equal poor funding which means fewer teachers and less resources for those that need the most.
Local control makes corruption easy to hide.

Good Teachers (5, Insightful)

Lije Baley (88936) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382178)

How about hiring some charismatic, experienced teachers who will inspire the kids on a daily basis? And they won't need higher salaries - just a nice bureaucracy and politics-free workplace. I'd love to teach and make a real difference in our future, but the environment is just too toxic.

Re:Good Teachers (1)

red_blue_yellow (1353825) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382314)

How about hiring some charismatic, experienced teachers who will inspire the kids on a daily basis? And they won't need higher salaries - just a nice bureaucracy and politics-free workplace.

Sure, I can agree with the feel-good part of that -- but you have to pay them a higher salary. I'm not talking about $39k instead of $34k. You can make that much interning as a software developer. People who are both charismatic and experienced are already commanding high salaries elsewhere; I doubt that hardly any of them are willing to stomach that type of pay cut unless they are reaching old age.

Now, as to whether or not public schools are the best method for educating students in general, that's a different story... but currently, widespread homeschooling and private schools are unfortunately not an option.

Re:Good Teachers (2, Interesting)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382740)

Private schools are not the answer. I went to public and private schools. The only reason private schools perform better imo was because the students in private schools were handpicked, low risk students who came from supporting homes.

Take your average Public school class and dump them into a private school and you can kiss your academic achievements goodbye. The quality of teaching was pretty comparable in both schools.

Re:Good Teachers (1)

thms (1339227) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382678)

Sorry, but I think this is just feel-good nonsense, lets hire some experienced teachers! - well, and they just grow on trees? Obviously not, so should school districts cannibalize each other competing for the few good teachers? The result will be that the richer counties will gobbling up all the good teachers, widening the gap.

And you need some bureaucracy - specialization is not just for insects! Someone just has to do the paperwork, see which methods work or not, pay better performing teachers more and eventually make the hard decisions about firing that charismatic yet incompetent teacher. This is needed so that teachers can concentrate on the kids instead of playing nasty political games on the school level.

Re:Good Teachers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31382742)

For every human problem, there is a neat, simple solution; and it is always wrong. -Mencken

Re:Good Teachers (3, Insightful)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382706)

Just a nice bureaucracy and politics-free workplace

This is why teacher evaluations will always be extremely difficult to determine.

Both my parents are teachers. One university and one middle and grade-school. I don't know that either have taught at any school that wasn't rife with bureaucracy and politics. "Well that's what you get with government." No. One of them teaches at a private school. Every school I've attended both public and private has been full of politics and bureaucracy. Teachers driven out because an administrator wanted to hire one of their friends. The most difficult part of this process would be finding a way that those politics don't just get empowered by the ability to easily fire teachers.

I have a theory as to why this is the case. It's because nobody is well payed. When you don't get monetary compensation all you're left with is power.

Even then I don't see what good any of it will do. I went to a private school for almost every single year except the first half of Kindergarten. In that time I had great teachers and I had terrible teachers. The administration had total power over hiring and firing. I can't think of a single instance in my entire life where a poor teacher was actually fired. I can think of numerous instances where teachers who I thought were amazing were driven to quit.

So how do we find the good teachers?
Do we ask the students? Maybe in college. But students are always split. My favorite teachers actually required the students to think. This usually resulted in a large subset of students hating them. One of my favorite teachers would throw chalk erasers at students who weren't paying attention. His argument being if they were paying attention to class they would see it coming! I got hit a bunch of times but still thought it was hilarious. Some of the teachers I despised who simply forced 18th century rote memorization of useless facts were hugely popular with the students who didn't care about relevance and would spend all night memorizing lists of things.

Do we ask the other teachers? In which case you're back to the teacher cliques and politics.

DO we look at test scores? Do we want all the teachers just competing to get the best test scores? Can we fully compensate for the students' natural talents and quality and home life? My high-school always was in the top 5 percentile for test scores. We achieved that imo largely through our expulsion policy. Get caught smoking off campus. Expelled. Get caught drinking off campus. Expelled. Get arrested for vandalism off campus. Expelled. Get pregnant. Expelled. Through a stringent expulsion policy we managed to expel anyone and everyone who statistically would be a poor student.

What I don't see. (1, Interesting)

headkase (533448) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382200)

How about exploring this for a bit: perhaps the student has bigger things to worry about. Like say whether or not they are going to get shot on their way to class, or if that crack dealer is going to pummel them because one of their friends owes him. You know, just sayin' that its a whole problem. Drugs in schools are a huge problem and prohibition has only made it worse, education is what is needed, ironically, of wider issues than just the "teachers" in isolation.

Re:What I don't see. (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382520)

Drugs outside school are a police problem, but easy enough to interdict in school. Run K-9 units through every day, have lockers with screens instead of opaque doors, and turn problem schools into mini-police states because nothing else works.

Expel the bad kids in order to save the good ones who don't deserve to live in a Hellmouth. If one must pretend there is hope for the total thugs, send them to a school where they won't ruin things for the youth who actually want a future.

Imposed discipline is the foundation of self-discipline. That's why basic military training produces people with a high degree of self-mastery and public schools in the US don't produce much at all.

This is also why we should have school choice legislation. Parents who care enough about their kids to help them escape the system shouldn't have to support the system at the same time.

You know it after you have seen it. (2, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382210)

In my personal experience, students are the best judge of teachers, once they reach the JR High/Middle school and are exposed to more than one teacher at a time. Grade school kids usually have nothing to compare with "She who must be obeyed".

Looking back, students can identify the best teachers they ever had, those that got them interested in subjects, who got points across, who came prepared, and who usually had a closet full of source material accumulated over the years.

In a move that would surely bring the swat team today, we were handed a Civil war rifle to examine (inert), often instructed by "The general" in full period uniform (regardless of the period being discussed), and howled in laughter as a canoe paddle and coon skin cap was produced from under the desk and he paddled his desk chair across the room.

This kind of imaginative teaching is now gone. Instead we have dumbed down books and teachers instructed to follow it to the letter.

I suspect everyone can think back on their education and immediately identify a particular teacher that made an impression. Both good and bad. And more often than not that teacher will not have been the one teaching their favorite subject.

Re:You know it after you have seen it. (1)

beaverbrother (586749) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382352)

I don't understand why Jr. High and High School students don't fill out evaluations of their teachers, just like in universities. Even though some students will say immature stuff, I am guessing that they are the best way to meter a teacher's performance.

Huge changes needed in the schools (2, Insightful)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382218)

1 teachers should go down for treason if they can't teach but keep trying to
2 every administrator should be required to put in say 2 "credit hours" of teaching every year
(unless it can be proven they are geniuses at admin but can't teach)
3 the first 3 years of teaching should be done by folks that are a combo of MR Rogers and Judge Dred
4 most of the first 3 years should be focused on A that you can learn B respect for others C how to teach yourself
(who cares that a 5 year old only knows 1 language if said kid is able to respect the other kids long enough to learn the other languages)

How do you develop good teachers? (2, Interesting)

plopez (54068) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382224)

The classroom is a complicated and unconstrained environment. It is unconstrained since there are so many outside forces at work a teacher does not have control over. How do you select and train good teachers, even if you could identify them? Do you fire an bad teacher after the first year or give them time to develop?

Do you test people? How do you know they just aren't good at taking tests?

Another thing I heard (I can't find the reference) is that fewer students in the classroom make a difference. Are we willing to pay for better education or is this just another lame half-hearted attempt?

And let's not talk about charter schools. There is evidence they are no better than public schools. If we fix either charter or public schools we may be able to fix the other.

http://www.usnews.com/blogs/on-education/2009/06/17/charter-schools-might-not-be-better.html [usnews.com]

Re:How do you develop good teachers? (1)

Adaeniel (1315637) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382276)

Do you fire an bad teacher...

Well, it looks like it might have helped in your case.

Re:How do you develop good teachers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31382468)

There is a special circle of hell for grammar nazis.

Re:How do you develop good teachers? (4, Interesting)

spaceman375 (780812) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382574)

Peer review. Not from the other teachers who work at the same school, but from teachers all over the state or country:
What I envision is that all teachers should log some 4 or 5 hours per month watching a video feed of a few randomly chosen teachers, and then give those teachers (and their bosses) feedback. This will lead to both nurturing the good teachers and quicker identification of those who should not be in charge of kids. Even those who are watching may learn something from seeing another's approach. Good all around.
The feedback should not be anonymous to avoid the occaisional personal connection that may arise. A bad review from your husband's ex should be challengable.

So where is the Borg Gates image? (1)

You'reJustSlashFlock (1708024) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382226)

Oh, that's right, he created the world's largest philanthropic foundation. Hard to forget about that when it's actually mentioned directly in the summary. Best to leave it out since we don't want to look cruel and cold to charities - only their funding sources are evil.

Consultant-Teachers? (3, Interesting)

beaverbrother (586749) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382292)

I wouldn't be surprised if there are a lot of people who want to teach, but want to work a regular job as well. I'm not sure how it would work logistically, but it would be nice if they were able to sign up as a "consultant-teacher" to teach one class in their area of expertise with no long term commitment.

In my experience, authority (3, Insightful)

istartedi (132515) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382312)

As free, independant thinking geeks, we like to disparage authority. I feel wierd saying it, but in my experience authority is important.

You have to understand what I mean by "authority". It doesn't mean hitting people with rulers, or being stern all the time. It's something more like leadership. You just know it when you see it.

I spent 3 years in a private school that, while it had its failings, seemed to know how to control a classroom. (note, this is a 30 year old memory from when I was a kid, so I could be wrong; but these are the impressions I got)

Teacher walks in. Students get quiet. End of story.

You can't learn when the students are running the classroom, at least not when they're running it out of their id, which is where most kids operate. Yes, I'm aware of alternative schools where kids have free reign and positive outcomes; but there's some selectivity going on there. Trying to apply that en masse would be a mistake, IMHO.

Anyway, at the private school we had a very charismatic teacher who was in a bus accident. We went through at least two replacements until we found one that could command respect and control the classroom. The other two literally got spitballed out of class! In private school, this was not tolerated, and while individual kids would get punished if they got caught, it was also recognized that the teacher couldn't command respect or attention.

Now, all of this is very squishy. That's too bad. Either you've got it or you don't. That's all we know now. Maybe in the future we'll be able to run accurate psychological profiles that will prevent non-authoritative individuals from trying to run K-12 classrooms; but for now, firing is the only thing that works; ie, trial and error.

one problem (1)

TRRosen (720617) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382338)

there aren't enough teachers now. How can we start firing them?

Fact of the matter is that any solution to fix failing schools will cost money they don't have (thats why their failing). Any real solution requires fixing school funding. That either means huge federal grants. (to districts full of local corruption already) or and end to localized funding with funding and control moving to the state level and that will never happen as the rich districts will never allow an even field.

Re:one problem (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31382502)

Of course there aren't enough teachers. This is another product of teachers' unions. They have been very successful at putting up entry barriers to protect incumbents and justify higher salaries. Requiring certifications, graduate degrees, minimum college GPAs (despite the FACT that there is no normalization between GPAs of different colleges), etc. Put all these requirements in place and you would have a shortage in *any* field.

There is *no* reason why public high schools couldn't use large numbers of adjunct teachers. Many community colleges and small private colleges live off adjunct professors. There's no reason that the same model couldn't work at the high school level. I believe that many professionals would jump at the chance to go into high schools a couple days a week and teach a class or two. This would work; It would be great for the students and the schools. It will never happen because teachers' unions would throw a fit.

hire pedophiles and pederasts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31382344)

There is a gender crisis in education, with boys doing worse than girls almost across the board. And there is a crisis, if anybody cared, in hiring of male teachers in elementary school. Males that do enter teaching tend to leave for administrative positions. The theory was that men preferred the higher wages, but other research has shown that men are under pressure to leave the classroom by a female-centered culture that distrusts men and their contacts with children. Men are effectively banned from touching children, hugging them, being there for them. The tendency is for men to become disillusioned with teaching.

The average male doesn't care about kids, except their own. Teaching for them is just a job among others.

Pedophiles and pederasts are genetically programmed to be interested in kids. For them teaching is their life's work.

If our society wasn't completely insane with paranoia, we could flood inner cities and impoverished areas with highly motivated teachers. I guarantee

But nobody is willing to take the risk, and women like the control they have. It may be hard to believe, but education was invented by men, and even a hundred years ago, teaching was dominated by men. Today, male teachers are getting rare, and we're wondering about why we don't have as many good teachers. 50% of the population is effectively kept out.

What about... (2, Insightful)

Ginger_Chris (1068390) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382366)

..Class size? As a science teacher, I fully agree with all the comments about the difficulty of firing teachers, and the effect of teachers of pupils performance, BUT in terms of my own teaching - if the school cannot afford enough teachers and class sizes are made larger - not even the best teacher in the world can make that much of a difference. On the other hand, fewer students with even a bad teacher will do better. Also, the government (UK in this case) should stop changing the sylabus or current faddy pedagogy and let teachers teach the same thing for more than 3 years. Just when you start achieving results with whatever they have decided is the 'next best thing'(TM) they change it.

People love to blame problems on teachers (1, Insightful)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382382)

because that way, no additional work or money is required by the complainer to solve the problem.

Re:People love to blame problems on teachers (2, Insightful)

BeanThere (28381) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382672)

The problem with US education is NOT one of funding; governments have been throwing more and money at education over the past decades and it hasn't made any difference in outcomes:

http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/downchart_gs.php?year=1980_2020&view=1&expand=&units=b&fy=fy11&chart=20-total&bar=1&stack=1&size=m&title=&state=US&color=c&local=20-total [usgovernmentspending.com]

Of course, it's usually the people who stand to benefit from having even more thrown at this problem, who cry out about how the problem is "we need more money". Which makes me wonder if you're part of the system.

overwhelming social and economic forces (5, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382406)

The Newsweek article is about getting rid of incompetent teachers. The NYT article is mainly about figuring out specific teaching techniques that are effective. I doubt that either of these will have any positive effect on K-12 education in the U.S. -- in fact, I'm convinced that essentially nothing that our society does as a whole can have any significant effect on average educational outcomes.

Our school system sends kids to schools near where they live. Where you live correlates with your family's income and education. By the time a kid is old enough for school, a number of extremely powerful factors have been at work in determining how well the kid will do in school. One kid grows up in a house full of books; the parents subscribe to newspapers; the adults talk about intellectual things at the dinner table. The other kid grows up in a house with no books or newspapers; the parents spend their free time watching TV.

Let's say the authors of the Newsweek article get their way, and bad teachers are fired. The problem is that (a) the school now has to hire a replacement, and (b) there's a reason why the school hired a lousy candidate the first time around. There is a job market for schoolteachers. The reason the school hired a lousy candidate the first time around was because they had a lousy pool of applicants. Why did they have a lousy pool of applicants? Most likely because this is a school where 90% of the kids qualify for the free lunch program. The best teachers generally don't want to teach in that kind of environment. They know that if they teach in that environment, they're getting the kids who have been growing up with TV and no books. They know they're going to spend more time on discipline than on academics. They know that a lot of the families are financially unstable, so they're always on the move; of the faces in the classroom on the first day of class, maybe 40% will have been replaced with new faces by the last day of the year.

The NYT article talks about improving specific skills that teachers need. But they also admit that that can't make up for lack of subject knowledge, especially in math. As one of the articles notes, teaching and nursing are no longer the only career options for smart, talented women. I'm a college professor, and when I taught classes specifically targeted at preservice K-12 teachers, they were the worst students I'd ever had. In the job market, the vast majority of people applying for K-12 teaching jobs are just not such great students. In the US, 80% of them have bachelor's degrees education, meaning that they basically got a diploma without ever having to learn a deep and specific body of knowledge in any particular subject. Sure, a few people do go to highly selective schools, get stellar grades in a real academic subject, and then move on to a career in K-12 teaching. The problem is that those people are few and far between. When they go on the job market, they have their pick of schools. Most of them are going to end up in affluent, suburban districts.

Prental Involment? (5, Insightful)

YesDinosaursDidExist (1268920) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382426)

We are forgetting a very important part of the formula here: the parents. In many "at risk" districts teachers spend more than half their day making sure the kids aren't hungry, are behaving in class, have their homework completed, and have the supplies that they need like pencils. Why is all this happening? Because the parents are not involved in their kids lives. Either they simply don't give a shit, or they are working more than 40 hours a week just to put food on the table. No matter how good a teacher is, if the kid's home life sucks, or they are more worried about if they are going to be eating, they will never succeed.

Speaking as a teacher... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31382448)

No offense, but more often than not, it is the home environment that determines whether a child will succeed or not when they reach school. Having said that, I COMPLETELY agree with the concept that a teacher can, and will, turn a student off of a subject, possibly forever due to their teaching style (or lack thereof).

Sadly, from a classroom perspective, you cannot hope to inspire every student in your class, no matter how many times you watch Mr. Holland's Opus - there are some student that will NEVER succeed in either a) your subject, or in some cases, b) school (whether or not that materialized into success after school is beyond the scope of the discussion). Firing teachers is a slippery slope because how do you determine success - by the kids' grades? I could 'teach to the test' if I were in constant fear of my job, I surely wouldn't inspire anybody that way, and as far as I'm concerned, I consider my pedagogy a success if I can inspire students to like the subject, regardless of how much they've learned, depending on the metric I'd surely be fired.

Look at what private schools do (1)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382488)

Some of my greatest teachers I had were at a private school I attended (I know, I know "liberal elite" and so on).

One of them changed my life by getting me interested in computers, another nourished my creative side in architecture.

Did these teachers have to go through a huge bureaucracy? Did they have to get endless "certifications"? No, they merely had to demonstrate that they were GREAT (probably to a small board of their peers or parents).

I can draw a direct line from the interest those teachers sparked in me to the computer graphics company I founded (and later ended up employing quite a few people at). I can't imagine what would have happened if I had gone to a "regular" school.

Get rid of the bureaucracy, cut the unions' power to the bare minimum needed to protect teachers' rights and give parents the right to choose their school. Ultimately there is no greater issue that will determine the success or failure of the "American Experiment". Oh, and teach real science not this creationist/climate change denialist crap.

Excerpt from related story (3, Interesting)

Alaska Jack (679307) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382564)

L.A. Weekly:

In the past decade, [school district] officials spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven of the district's 33,000 teachers for poor classroom performance — and only four were fired, during legal struggles that wore on, on average, for five years each. Two of the three others were paid large settlements, and one was reinstated. The average cost of each battle is $500,000.

[Note that, in one of nation's largest school districts, that's less than one ATTEMPTED firing per year]

We also discovered that 32 underperforming teachers were initially recommended for firing, but then secretly paid $50,000 by the district, on average, to leave without a fight. Moreover, 66 unnamed teachers are being continually recycled through a costly mentoring and retraining program but failing to improve, and another 400 anonymous teachers have been ordered to attend the retraining.

- AJ

Been clear for some time (1)

sunfly (1248694) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382668)

Study after study come to the same conclusion, the single biggest factor in education bar none is the quality of the teacher. Yet we continue to put up with a system that makes firing teachers almost impossible. tenure should be illegal at any school that receives public tax dollars.

The second problem is the best teachers switch to management to almost double their salary, or simply choose a better paying career. We have allowed schools to become very top heavy, with fewer and fewer dollars actually getting to the classroom. The system needs rebalanced, more money to the teachers, less for management and other other secondary activities. We need and want healthy competition.

Uneducated teachers (1)

tombeard (126886) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382682)

My wife runs an after school daycare, where she and her staff help with homework and tutoring. Math is a big problem for the kids. She finds that lots of kids are stuck on addition and subtraction when their classes are in multiplication and above. These children should not have progressed without the needed knowledge. She also sees problems given with no instruction, and very little usable information in the textbook. As an engineer, I can sometimes work out what they are trying to teach and it is usually some obtuse math principle completely irrelevant to the course. These teachers do not know their subject material, most of them don't comprehend math at all, they are just rote teaching the "method" they were given. When I was in school I thought a science lab and one summer I had a group of teachers taking my class to maintain their accreditation. They were seriously annoyed that I expected them to learn the science. The common refrain was "We don't want to learn how this works, we just want to learn how to teach it". As long as they have that mindset there will be no progress.

systematic control of intellectual growth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31382692)

1. One size Definitely DOESN'T fit all. Each classroom is not the same. They have there own personality that most experience teachers recognize immediately.
Yet,Teachers are not allowed to teach. They have to follow the script mandated by the school department of the state. Any freestyling off script is frowned upon.
New inexperienced teachers don't realize this because of the gap in teachers generations, exacerbated by firings, denial of tenure and forced retirement packages.

3.TESTS TESTS TESTS AKA Bullshyt

Some Kids excel at testing, successful at Life.
Some Kids excel at testing, FAIL at Life.
Some Kids suck at testing, FAIL at Life.
Some Kids suck at testing, sucessful at Life.

The school boards fail, NOT the teachers. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31382698)

Being a socialized element they are at the mercy of the Federal Imperial government for funding and a major chunk of that funding is directly related to active attendance of student. In order to squeeze every last penny they could out of the Federal Imperial government school boards started to come up with rather brilliant ideas of catering to the ignorant cockroach wetback border bunnies from our ever so well run and adjusted latrino wasteland neighbor to the South. You see, many of these roaches are just too stupid to learn basic American English in either spoken or written form and as such you may very well forget about anything in regards to math and science unless you are talking about basic accounting for the bags of drugs they sell which come in with each new 50+ addition to their family in their studio apartment each week and some of the more clever ones think science is cooking meth and smoking it around the flammable vapors of one of the ingredients. However, they breed like bunnies and flow as freely over the border as air through a gulfstream with no consequences or dire penalties or deterrents.

The solution?

Dumb down the curriculum!!! English courses are not required as they can go to their English as a SECOND Language class which is taught by their cousin (they are all more inbred and related than the stereotypes of Southerners) who just let them run wild all over campus during class time. Math is capped out before even geometry much less algebra since they only need to count up to 6 or 13 to load bullets into their guns they use to constantly commit crimes ranging from theft to murder and rape. Science classes become sticking your hand in fire and grunting an accented "hot" before starting out the next grunts with "pinche caliente." History classes become one sentence summaries of entire events. The level of education was simply lowered all across all subjects to cater to these semi-intelligent cockroaches so as to increase and keep up the attendance. Of course it also goes without saying that all security on campus is then replaced with more wetbacks who turn a blind eye to the criminal activities and enterprises of all their cousins.

In the middle of all of this are the teachers who thought at one time they wanted to pursue something they liked and maybe even make a positive difference somehow. Don't point the fingers at them. I don't blame them one damn bit for being burned out and sick and tired of facing these criminal cockroaches they cannot even communicate with as they have guns and knives pulled on them while the board throws them under a bus and some other gutter trash parents find ambulance chasers who will try to litigate over shit so petty as even how somebody blinks.

Blame the school boards who chose greed over education.

Blame every last single moron who chooses to turn a blind eye towards or supports these cockroach wetbacks. Especially the ones who oppose the harsh treatment needed to take care of this invasive infestation of these cockroach border bunnies who are slowly but surely making a large contribution into the decay of America into another latrino 3rd world wasteland. No English, no life; gas em and cremate em. Maybe start sending these illegals back missing an arm, or a leg or an eye and see how many times they want to crawl under a fence to have something else chopped off.

American: the new synonym for spineless dumbed down idiot.

Improving Education through Better Parents (3, Insightful)

sweatyboatman (457800) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382708)

not everyone can be a fantastic teacher (in the same way that not everyone can be a concert pianist) no matter how well they are trained. and there aren't enough people with the temperament, focus, love, patience and understanding that make up a fantastic teacher to teach every child on every subject.

unless you're very wealthy (and probably even then) your children are going to have teachers that are not inspirational. and perhaps they're not even particularly well informed. or perhaps your child's teacher is truly inspirational, but it turns out that he or she is not inspirational in a way that works for your child. your child will spend day after day, hour after hour sitting through interminable lectures and stupid pointless presentations. they will get useless comments on their school work and they'll bring home ridiculous assignments. And just in case you think it's just in your imagination, your neighbor's lod will be assigned to a more capable teacher in the same subject.

well clearly, due to this terrible misfortune, your child will end up working at a gas station for the rest of his life.

it seems to me that many parents look on education as some sort of passive process (your kid goes to school for 12 years and comes out Enhanced With Knowledge® ). so when they see their child struggling in school they naturally think the school is broken. they want better teachers and better facilities to put the knowledge into their child! Well, it couldn't hurt. But real learning happens only when the student is actively involved in the process. Yes, excellent teachers know how to make subjects come alive for their students, but students need to be able to inspire themselves.

If it takes an army of miraculous teachers to get a person to graduate high school, that person is going to have serious issues when they confront a world full of people who aren't exerting every particle of effort into making them successful.

New Approach (5, Insightful)

McBeer (714119) | more than 4 years ago | (#31382712)

I've had 70+ teachers over the years. Maybe 4 of them were "bad". On the other hand, I've had to be in class with hundreds of lazy, disruptive, and/or stupid students who waste the entire class' time. If we got rid of the dead weight students, we could improve as a whole.
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