Dancing Around the Numbers

We all want our Navy SEALS to be the best, but that means that a lot of people who might want to be SEALS don’t get to be. We want our NFL quarterbacks and other players to be the best, but that means that a lot of player wannabes either don’t get drafted or get cut along the way.
We want the best teachers for our students, but in the Quality Counts report on international benchmarking to find the best in educational practice in other countries, we dance around the fact that in Finland, Singapore and elsewhere, nine out of ten who want to be teachers are not accepted into training.
We seem to have conflicting goals in the United States. We want the best teachers, but we apparently also want just about everyone who wants to be a teacher to get to be one. So our schoolteachers, instead of coming from the top ten percent of their college classes academically, come, in most cases, from the bottom third of their classes, and half of them quit after five years.
If we want equality of educational opportunity for all our students, we may have to begin rejecting ninety percent of those who apply to be trained as teachers. That is what our more successful international peers are doing. They have larger classes as one result sometimes, but their students have a much better chance of being in those classes with a top-drawer teacher.
All those who continue to argue that the most important variable in student academic achievement is teacher quality should be willing to consider that in order to ensure teacher quality here it may be necessary to make it much harder to become a teacher for our students.
Of course all the vested interests in United States educational enterprises will resist this idea, but at least we should not be afraid to look at what our competitors are doing with it, and perhaps a few of us will be able to wonder how we can have the first-rate teachers we want for our students without selecting one out of ten candidates instead of seven or eight out of ten, or whatever our current rate is.
Education Week, in examining international practices among our competitors in the most recent Quality Counts report, seems to have danced away from those questions completely. And if in fact teacher quality is what makes the most difference for our students, dancing around the selection issue will not help to make that difference work for our students.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

One thought on “Dancing Around the Numbers”

  1. Fitzhugh assumes or makes conditional statements regarding teacher quality, such as “if in fact teacher quality is what makes the most difference for our students ….”.
    I know many teachers, from my generation, newer teachers from the generation after, and some newest teachers just entering the field. Their experiences are not that teachers do not have the quality to teach, their experiences are that too many students are not there to learn. Every teacher I know from my generation, most of whom are now retired, lament the “don’t give a damn” attitude of students they have attempted to teach in the last 10 to 15 years.
    I’d say, teacher quality will become essential in our schools once there are students coming to school who want to learn, but not until then.

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