How to Build a Better Teacher

Ray Fisman:

The conversation about how to improve American education has taken on an increasingly confrontational tone. The caricature often presented in the press depicts hard-driving, data-obsessed reformers–who believe the solution is getting rid of low-performing teachers–standing off against unions–who don’t trust any teaching metric and care more about their jobs than the children they’re supposed to be educating.
But in some ways the focus on jobs misses the point. As New York State School Chancellor John King has pointed out, with the exception of urban hubs like New York and L.A., few school districts have the luxury of firing low-performing teachers with the knowledge that new recruits will line up to take their places.
If we take firing off the table, what else can be done to resolve America’s education crisis? The findings of several recent studies by psychologists, economists, and educators show that–despite many reformers’ claims to the contrary–it may be possible to make low-performing teachers better, instead of firing them. If these studies can be replicated throughout entire school systems and across the country, we may be at the beginning of a revolution that will build a better educational system for America.