Thursday, October 8, 2009

Aha! I Figured Out the Solution!

As anybody who reads about education policy these days knows, only two things matter: charter schools and teacher quality.

For example:
Q: How do we close the achievement gap?
A: Create more charter schools and recruit better teachers

The only problem is that many of the most successful charter schools rely almost exclusively on a certain kind of teacher.  And given that teacher turnover is higher in charter schools than others, we need to find even more of them than we might otherwise -- especially if we want to create more successful charter schools.  But where will we find talented people to sacrifice their time and earning potential to work 80+ hour weeks helping low-income children at a charter school?

Do not fear: Corey is here.  And I've figured out the solution.  We need to train our kids to become charter school teachers.  As charter schools expand, the students of today will start entering the workforce ready to take their place on the cutting edge of education.  How will we do this?  Simple: use what we know from research about what makes a good teacher and what drives people to teach in a charter school.

What we know: Recent research on how teachers select which school they teach at finds that teachers tend to select schools similar to those where they went to school -- both demographically and geographically.  In other words, White, upper middle-class people (who make up the bulk of the teaching force), usually aim to teach in mostly white, upper middle-class schools.  Who were the exceptions to this rule?  Mostly people who wanted to teach for a few years rather than as a lifetime -- people who viewed teaching as a form of community service rather than as a career.

What we can do: Impart to our kids the importance of community service and helping others.  If more kids grow up wanting to help others, we'll have more people entering TFA after college and postponing their plans to start their own hedge fund or law firm.

What we know: The search to finding a formula to predict who will be a good teacher has not borne much fruit.  But we do know that test scores of potential teachers seem to matter only a little or not at all (depending on which study you read).  On the other hand, an understanding of why kids get certain problems wrong has proven to be an effective indicator of teaching ability.  We also know that people retain more of what they teach than what they hear.

What we can do: Instead of test-prep, we can have students spend time teaching other students.  Whether it's tutoring kids from their own class, teaching lessons to younger kids, or simply presenting what they've learned as part of "jigsaw" lesson, kids will end up knowing more about how students learn.  They'll enter adulthood with slightly lower test scores, but a better understanding of pedagogy.  And probably more knowledge.

So, really, the solution is simple: train more kids to be charter school teachers when they grow up.  We'll solve the labor shortage problem and close the achievement gap.  And, heck, maybe there will even be some positive externalities.

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