Experience Counts

Among the more bizarre trends in education reform debate has been the emergence of an argument that experience doesn’t really matter. The problem appears to be that some researchers have not found ways to measure the importance of experience very effectively, and so, cheered on by cost-cutting and union-bashing allies, they tell us that after the first few years, teacher experience doesn’t matter. They have the test scores to prove it, they say.

I’m not here to argue the opposite. I’ve seen new teachers who have a skill set that rivals some of their veteran colleagues. However, I’ve never met a teacher who didn’t believe they could still improve. After all, we’re in the learning business. With experience comes not only time to learn more content and more pedagogy, but also to learn more about children, psychology and brain neurology, about working effectively with peers, administrators, and the community.

Think of other professions, and let me know if you know of any where experience isn’t valued. If education research isn’t showing the value of experience, then I think we should be asking questions like, “What’s wrong with their research methods? What’s wrong with the measures they’ve chosen? What’s wrong with schools and education systems that they can’t put experience to better use?”

This morning, I heard an interesting story about the oil industry, and the experience gap that is emerging among its engineers and other workers. To my untrained eye, this seems like an industry where experience wouldn’t matter. You’re dealing with physics, chemistry, machinery, manual labor – does the oil rig know or care how old or how experienced the workers are? Is there any chance that the properties of oil are unpredictable? If you can build, repair, or operate machinery in another industry, is the oil industry machinery so different?

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