Edward Glaeser, an urban economist on the Harvard faculty widely and properly regarded as a smart guy, explains quality assurance for K-12 teaching in the Washington Monthly. Ed, don’t risk your day job.
Glaeser’s article falls off at least two cliffs, a cautionary lesson not to opine outside the range of the data you actually have at your disposal. First, he sounds like, um, an economist who has never really managed anything, and treats good teaching as a trait of teachers. Not a skill that can be improved and developed, a trait, like blue eyes. Teachers are what they are, so just find the bad ones and fire them. As he is a teacher for a living, one has to assume he believes he has learned nothing about the craft since he was a wet-behind-the-ears new PhD. But just because you haven’t learned to improve your own performance is no reason to conclude no-one else can. If, like me, he has indeed become a better teacher with coaching and practice, there’s really no explanation for not expecting the same of K-12 teachers. And an economist should be quick to realize how much cheaper it is to train and coach than to fire and start over again and again, even if the latter worked.
He likes standardized tests, perhaps because they generate data of the usual (quantitative) type, whether or not they measure what you actually care about, and I think he wants to apply them to teachers. Now, what would that be like? “When John and Susie raise their hands at exactly the same time, and John is a row in front of Eddie and didn’t turn in his homework today, (A) Call on John (B) Call on Susie (C) Assign extra homework (D) Erase blackboard (E) None of the above. ” Maybe he just means external testing of students, and going back to the well of promoting teachers by score gains, and to be fair, he also wants to supplement these measures with classroom observation by experts.
But however we test whom, what’s most deaf-and-blind about this column remains Glaeser’s complete failure to say a blinking word about any way to make teachers better at what they do beyond threatening them with firing and (I guess) dangling a pay carrot. For someone whose job is half teaching people to do stuff better than they can when they arrive, this is not just narrow-minded but incomprehensible. What does he think is happening to his students in his own courses, for Pete’s sake? Does he think they stop learning forever when they graduate?