Testing the teachers

734px-Aspen_Crossing_Learning_Community a copyOne of the major challenges in education is preparing new teachers. New ideas for teacher education are constantly being thrown about. But how do we really know what works?

Check out research and you will find that the best predictor of students’ success in the public schools is the educational level of their parents (especially the mother), closely followed by stability of family life. Students in tense situations often struggle because their efforts are channeled elsewhere. Now, these are not characteristics of the school system but the students’  environment. Students whose have higher cognitive abilities in visual language and visual symbolic thinking (reading and math  as opposed to art, music, sports drama etc.) also do better in school, but that ability is innate.

Frequently I see bumper stickers saying “If you can read, thank a teacher.”  Actually both of my children learned to read at home. The first one was unintentional. Trying to be a good parent, I read a little bit to my oldest every night. By the time he was in kindergarten, he had figured out how to sound out words and read by himself. The second child suffered from dyslexia and needed more instruction than the teachers could give her.  So I did my research, and tried a few methods, but it was mostly persistent practice that eventually led her into reading.

Teachers often would like to take credit for high achieving students that are ‘talented’ in reading and math in the same way that another student can carry an exquisite tune, draw a beautiful sketch or throw a fast pitch. But gifted testing shows that students who find it easier to read and do math at younger ages usually continue to do better in these same subjects as they move on to upper levels in school.

So the concern remains – how to redesign the education of new teachers. How you prepare teachers if no one really knows how to measure the quality of existing teachers? Using students’ test results to find out how well teachers are doing has been considered “taboo” by teachers because of the environmental and innate factors that they cannot control. If teachers fear being evaluated based on student achievement as long as there are students who fail to learn, should they even attempt to take credit for those that succeed?

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