Teachers are what really matter

06/12/2013 5:16 PM

06/12/2013 5:16 PM

This week brings another court battle, another deviation from what matters most in education.

The Missouri Supreme Court has finally ruled on a closely watched case out of St. Louis dealing with whether children can change school districts if theirs is unaccredited.

Obviously, there are implications for the Kansas City school district. But nip the inclination to assume that if children transfer to a different district, their test scores will skyrocket.

Teacher quality matters more.

Shifting children school to school has very little effect on overall achievement, education experts have found. What does matter is the vast difference between a very good and a less effective teacher.

“A really good classroom teacher will teach in half a year what it takes a good teacher to accomplish in a year and what a poor teacher will take two years to teach,” said Larry Flakne, an education consultant who specializes in school improvement with schools across the state.

Give a child three consecutive years with highly effective teachers and the results will be dramatic. In one study, second-graders who began at the 50th percentile were at the 90th percentile after three years with highly effective teachers. The children who were assigned low-performing teachers slipped after three years to the 37th percentile.

Exemplary teachers can be found in every school district in the metro. Subpar and average ones are scattered about, too. A suburban district setting doesn’t always mean a teacher is more effective. He or she might be teaching OK and benefit by having student achievement levels buoyed by the other factors in the child’s favor — college-educated parents, enough affluence for vacations and childhood experiences that build their skills, vocabulary and overall development.

The conundrum is determining what the most effective teachers are doing differently and getting the less successful teachers to replicate those strategies.

Even the seemingly simple issue of praise and feedback becomes complicated quickly. Praise can improve performance, or it can be the sort of “gratuitous” feedback that Flakne has red-flagged in schools.

Literally every word that comes out of a teacher’s mouth and their every nod and motion toward a child have an impact.

That’s also an indicator of why teaching is so extremely difficult to do well.

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