Are great teachers just born that way, or is there a proven method to train many instructors to become much more effective?
In one of the most fascinating (and longest) education articles out there, Elizabeth Green wrote in the New York Times Sunday magazine about “Building a Better Teacher.” The experts she talked to suggest that the answer may be the latter, that there are specific methods and techniques (and a new vocabulary of teaching terms) that can be used more successfully train high-quality instructors.
However, over at Education Next, Harvard’s Paul Peterson says one of Green’s key conclusions is misguided:
…She says we will need millions of additional teachers to cover baby boom retirements, and wonders how we can find enough good ones.
The answer is that we can’t–not even with more effective education schools or elaborate merit pay programs or by ruthlessly dismissing ineffective teachers.
Dr. Peterson makes an excellent point. Don’t get me wrong: Overhauling teacher preparation and enhancing alternative licensure programs, as well as implementing compensation and tenure reform, are important strategies for policy makers to pursue. But they aren’t enough to solve the problem of getting all students connected to the instruction of quality teachers.
Notice I didn’t necessarily say in the classrooms of quality teachers. Dr. Peterson expounds:
As I explain in Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning, we need fewer teachers, not more, and those few teachers must reach thousands of students at a time. Fortunately, this possibility, once remote, is now arriving with a speed as rapid as that of the avatar-laden space ship zeroing in on the planet Pandora. As we enter the world of high-powered notebook computers, broadband internet connections, 3-dimensional curricula, open-source product development, and internet-based games, both co-operative and competitive, students will learn by accessing dynamic, interactive instructional materials that provide information to each student at the level of accomplishment he or she has reached.
I’ve written about cyberschools here many times before. Here in Colorado, as much as in any other state, competitive innovation continues in this field as a way to reach more students. Are we at the place yet where teachers can “reach thousands of students at a time”? No, but the day is fast approaching. In the meantime, staying away from burdensome regulations on online education and pursuing quality teaching reforms (like the list I mentioned above) are two important approaches we need to pursue.
Such reforms include the groundbreaking teacher training efforts highlighted in Green’s New York Times piece. The path is clear to how we can improve (and quite possibly in a dramatic fashion) educational outcomes in the near and long-range future. The political power of groups invested in protecting the status quo can only impede progress for so long.
Terry Moe Touts Power of Technology to Transform Politics of Education – July 30, 2009
Disrupting Class Means Future Change for School System, Teacher Unions – January 5, 2010