Monday, July 25, 2011

Increasing the Supply of Professional Teachers

Professor Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford has devoted much of her career arguing for a professional teacher supply pipeline. In part, she argues (1) that the quality of our teachers is the most important in-school factor affecting outcomes for students, and (2) our current professional teaching force is inequitably distributed, so (3) key to closing the achievement gap is to ensure that truly professional teachers are in every classroom in the United States. These points would likely be agreed with even by her critics in our long-standing education debates.

This is important in light of George Parker's claim that "You can't fire your way into a successful school system" (discussed yesterday): it makes no sense to dismiss a current ineffective teacher if you don't have a better one waiting in the wings.

This issue made it difficult for us to improve during my years leading the English department at Locke High School. I knew that we had a number of weak teachers on our faculty, but even if we had been able to dismiss them (virtually impossible under the contract between Los Angeles Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles), the usual alternative was a long-term substitute teacher, rarely a good deal for students. (Working to improve relatively weak teachers is of course a preferable option, but was very difficult under the conditions then prevailing at Locke.)

There are thousands of similar failing schools across the United States. Without far more good teachers, in particular ones that can be effective with hard-to-teach students in hard-to-staff subjects in hard-to-staff schools in all-but-abandoned neighborhoods, we won't build school systems that we can all be proud of.

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