What happens when you combine school choice with bad teachers and staff?

January 19, 2007

For more on why teacher quality is what matters most, consider the Jan./Feb. Atlantic Monthly story on New Orleans schools. Reading, Writing, Resurrection, by Amy Waldman gives us a glimpse at the charter school revolution in that city. Much of what is going on is good: schools are freed of bureaucratic restrictions, school leaders can hire and fire their staff, district-wide open enrollment helps overcome residential segregation by allowing kids to go to any school in the city . . . . But, it turns out there are not anywhere near the number of decent teachers (or principals, counselors, etc.) to make the schools work. The result is a disaster. As Waldman writes,

But human capital, on many levels, was complicating Huger’s experiment. Brand-new, and filled with children from across the city, Lafayette Academy had neither history nor community to draw on. The principal seemed unhappy, the chief administrative officer tentative, and the lines of authority between them unclear. Two teachers had already quit by mid-October. And on the third floor, home to the unruly sixth and seventh grades, staff morale was sagging. The older children had come up through a school system that combined social promotion with an absence of socialization. Some of their teachers, in turn, had little or no urban teaching experience. The result was an endless clash of wills between students and staff, and what teachers described as a profound lack of respect. Nothing worked—not lectures, not phone calls to parents (themselves often indifferent), not detention.

Post-Katrina New Orleans reinforces the key point: Until we solve the human capital issues in schools, improvements will be marginal at best.


40 Responses to “What happens when you combine school choice with bad teachers and staff?”

  1. bart Says:

    So how much is this about good teachers (eg people who have a knack for the job) vs teacher training?

  2. James Says:

    This is a very hard question. There is tons of research suggesting that teacher quality is the most important schooling factor affecting educational outcomes, but there is much less proven on what makes a good teacher. As in other fields, some of it is innate, some learned. My own view is that good teacher training programs before entering the profession, along with robust on the job professional development, can have a significant impact on teacher quality. But too few teacher training programs are any good, and too few school systems have high quality professional development strategies.

  3. Katie Says:

    The majority of research out there on the efficacy of teacher training shows that it has basically no impact on student achievement (at least as measured by test scores). However, most teacher training out there now is minimal (a few hours a month, every couple years), so it may be that there is hope with more intensive training. However, the number one indicator of a teacher’s future success (as measured by student outcome) is the teacher’s college test scores (GPA/SAT), followed by the quality of their undergraduate institution. That being said, these factors are frequently ignored or given minimal weight in the hiring process.

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  5. Roni Lacy Says:

    What has happened to our education system? As parents how to we fight a loosing battle when our kids end up with a teacher with no compasion and no understanding for the students? Teaching can not be thought of as just a job, or just a paycheck. teachers have such a huge influence over our children. They try to mold our children into what they belive is propper or normal so to speak. So if our kids happen to get a teacher who has never had their own children or who has never had the bond with a child the way that a parent does, how do we know if while our children are in their care, that they are being heard, understood and most of all treated with the respect that they deserve in order for their enviroment to be the best it can be for the children to acheive and succeed? The way we know is simple. Our childrens behaviour tells all. Many many children are dianosed with ADD Disorder because of their behaviour at school in the class room. Like I said, teachers have a huge impact on our childrens behaviour. Sometimes when children are in a negative atmosphere, or made to feel as though they are a problem child, they will react on this and behave worse. If a child calls out the answer with out raising his hand, does this child have behaviour problems? or is this child feeling confident that he knows the answer and wants to be first at responding? who decides?? Again the teacher has control over this. We have many many wonderful and amazing teachers who make such a positive impact on our children because of their compassion for teaching and their understanding and patience for the children. When our children have a teacher like this, he or she will excell and succeed. He or She will have a positive attitude about school and will enjoy learning.Unfortunatley not all teachers will be this way. So what happens when your child has the other kind of teacher I have talked about and we as parrents begin noticeing the behaviour change? accademics begin to slip and your child has been labelled as a problem child, yet at home your child is fine. Who do you turn to? Who will listen? and who will make a difference.Not all children have ADD disorder, many are mis diagnosed because of the teachers lack of skill when it comes to communication with the children. Have you been through this??

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    I’m currently dealing with this at the moment and I have come here to read, understand and hope to do something to better my childs low self esteem and confidence back to where it once was.

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