How To Build a Better Teacher

Posted by on August 06, 2012

It’s not impossible

With the exception of urban hubs, few school districts have the luxury of firing low-performing teachers, writes Ray Fisman in Slate Magazine. So what else can be done? The findings of several recent studies by psychologists, economists, and educators show it may be possible to help low-performing teachers become better instead of firing them, he says. Fisman points to Cincinnati’s approach, the Teacher Evaluation System (TES), which combines evaluation by expert teachers — who observe classroom performance and also critique lesson plans and other written materials — with feedback based on those evaluations, to help teachers improve. One study suggests that participating in TES has an effect on students’ standardized math test scores equivalent to taking a teacher worse than three-quarters of his peers and making him average. And TES participants have tended to continue improvement in subsequent years outside of the program. A separate study tries to deconstruct TES into its constituent components to see which ones really matter for student achievement, but results are speculative. But if it’s unrealistic to expect we’ll find a pedagogical silver bullet, it should be possible to find individual interventions that have outsize effects on student learning at relatively modest cost, in Fisman’s view.

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