Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What makes a great teacher? And how do we measure this?

Pay for performance has been all over the news in the past couple of years as politicians struggle to quantify what effective teachers do. While many people, teachers included, agree that workers who are more effective should be paid more, the sticking point in education has been in how we measure that effectiveness. Can we trust the “value added” measures currently proposed by many states and districts?

An article in the December issue of Educational Leadership entitled “Good Teachers May Not Fit the Mold” breaks down the research comparing “good” teachers with those who don’t quite measure up. To briefly summarize, the research indicates that good teachers possess:

verbal and cognitive ability – “teachers’ ACT scores exerted a larger influence on student achievement than did student poverty level, class size, and teaching experience combined.”
adequate knowledge of their content areas
knowledge of how to teach their subject areas (pedagogical knowledge) – “students…whose teachers had strong pedagogical content knowledge…were likely to gain a full year more learning than students whose teachers had weak pedagogical content knowledge.”

Just as interestingly, the author outlined what has NOT been found to be tied to student success:

traditional licensure or credentials – the only exception was National Board Certified Teachers, whose students showed higher achievement levels than non-NBCT.
advanced degrees – simply having a master’s degree or higher had no positive correlational effect on student achievement and in some cases even had a negative effect.
extensive classroom experience – after their first 5 years of teaching, there was little difference in teacher effectiveness based on experience.

All of the above are measureable characteristics that can or have attempted to be correlated to the effectiveness of teachers. Research has shown several other characteristics that are NOT measureable, however, and yet are linked with “good” teaching:

belief that all students can learn – the so-called “self-fulfilling prophesy”
belief in their own abilities – teachers who believe in their own ability to help a student tend to have students who succeed
ability to connect with students – “teachers’ warmth, empathy, and ‘non-directivity’ strongly correlated to higher levels of student participation, motivation, and achievement.”

How do we measure these last three qualities of teachers? Will they translate to higher scores? Can they reliably be measured through observations? I don’t know the answer. But it’s pretty obvious that times, they are a-changin’ – and the old method of paying teachers more because they’ve simply been teaching longer or have sat through more classes will no longer cut it.

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