The education research community has reached consensus on very few issues. One that seems to be almost universally agreed upon is that teachers are the largest within-school factor affecting student performance. As a result, I think just about everybody agrees that students having better teachers is a good thing. But it seems like everybody has a different idea as to how we can do this.
I'll skip over recruitment, retention, and training of teachers for right now and focus on the debate around class size. We can boil it down to essentially two positions:
1.) Classes should be made as small as possible because teachers are more effective when they have to teach fewer kids
2.) We should assign the best teachers as many kids as feasibly possible in order to ensure that as many kids as possible have a great teacher
The Economist's blog on American politics has an interesting post essentially supporting position #2, but taking up another notch. The author suggests that the best teachers be broadcast to multitudes of classrooms across the country -- possibly thousands of students.
On the one hand, I wouldn't completely dismiss the idea -- particularly in subjects where there are shortages of experts -- because it has the potential to help students. But, on the other, the logistical problems would be enormous: Who manages the class? Who answers student questions? Who grades homework? and so on.
But here's my largest logistical beef with the idea: if the lessons are broadcast to audiences so large that interaction is impossible then why do they have to be broadcast live? Wouldn't a video be the same thing? Or, better yet, wouldn't some sort of integrated software with video be even better?
I'm not sure at what point somebody ceases to be a "teacher" -- does "teaching" somebody require interaction with them? Am I a teacher if I write a book on how to build a chair and somebody reads it and learns how to build a chair? Because I don't see much difference between that and the distance learning to the nth degree proposal. Which would then raise the question: do people learn best when taught by a teacher? My how complicated these things get. I'm going to stop there for now, but don't ever let anybody tell you that education is simple.