Recruiting the best?


This goal – recruiting and retaining talented people into teaching – is shared by most everyone, but it is among the most central emphases of the diverse group that might be called market-based reformers. Their idea is to change compensation structures, performance evaluations and other systems in order to create the kind of environment that will be appealing to high-achieving, less risk-averse people, as well as to ensure that those who aren’t cut out for the job are compelled to leave. This will, so the argument goes, create a “dynamic profession” more in line with the high risk, high reward model common among the private sector firms competing for the same pool of young workers.

No matter your feelings on TFA, it’s more than fair to say that their corps members fit this profile perfectly. On paper, they aren’t just “top third,” but top third of the top third. TFA cohorts enter the labor market having been among the highest achievers in the best colleges and universities in the nation. Getting accepted to the program is very, very difficult. Those who make it are not only service-oriented, but also smart, hard-working and ambitious. They are exactly the kind of worker that employers crave, and market-based reformers have made it among their central purposes to attract to the profession.

Yet, at least by the standard of test-based productivity, TFA teachers really don’t do better, on average, than their peers, and when there are demonstrated differences, they are often relatively small and concentrated in math (the latter, by the way, might suggest the role of unobserved differences in content knowledge). Now, again, there is some variation in the findings, and the number and scope of these analyses are limited – we’re nowhere near some kind of research consensus on these comparisons of test-based productivity, to say nothing of other sorts of student outcomes.
But, to me, one of the big, underdiscussed lessons of TFA is less about the program itself than what the test-based empirical research on its corps members suggests about the larger issue of teacher recruitment. Namely, it indicates that “talent” as typically gauged in the private sector may not make much of a difference in the classroom, at least not by itself. This doesn’t necessarily mean that market-based policies won’t lure great teachers, but it does suggest that, if we’re going to enact massive changes in personnel policy to attract a certain “type” of person to teaching, we might reexamine our assumptions on who we’re trying to attract and what they want.


The answer Is in the room not in witch hunts

During this past school year, great teaching took place in every school, in every district in the country, says Alan Blankstein. And it wasn’t the result of top-down, punitive education “reform” measures.

“Too much of the reform discussion has been a witch-hunt,” Blankstein says. “The dialogue in the country right now is horrific. You would think our public schools have ceased to function, but good work is being done across the country.”

The challenge, as Blankstein sees it, is not a lack of ideas or great educators. It’s about “scaling” the success – reaching a much wider body of students and ensuring that the structural and cultural transformation has occurred district-wide that is necessary to sustain success. “There is no shortage of great ideas about what works in the classroom,” Blankstein says.

“We’re wasting too much time searching for bad people in education! This will not produce results. It will just leave us further and further behind other countries in student achievement.”

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