Nicholas Kristof has an excellent column in the New York Times on the value of teachers. A big new study has tried to quantify the lifetime impact of a single good fourth-grace teacher, versus the impact of a single bad teacher, and it’s pretty significant.
But we knew that. My understanding is that extensive quantitative research on American education has consistently found, taking income and family and school quality into account, that some teachers get remarkably good results year in year out, and some get remarkably bad results. Even in chaotic ghetto schools, some teachers succeed far more than seems possible, and other teachers fail far more than seems reasonable. The results don’t just show up on the next test. They show up over a lifetime. Good teachers make a huge difference. So do bad teachers.
I admire teachers more than just about any other group in America. My mother was a teacher. My sister is a teacher. Back in the days when I went to Back to School nights, I routinely came near to tears when I met the inspiring, dedicated, full-of-life individuals who were teaching my kids day in day out.
But I do have a beef with teachers who won’t admit that there are bad teachers and good teachers and that it makes a huge difference in kids’ lives to get the good ones and avoid the bad ones. Especially it makes a difference in the kids who don’t have a lot of other resources at home or in the neighborhood.
I know it’s hard to fairly evaluate teachers. It’s hard to evaluate people in most lines of skilled work. You’re bound to get it wrong sometimes. But you shouldn’t retain bad teachers because you’re afraid of accidentally mistreating others. Schools exist for the benefit of kids, not teachers.
Our schools should try hard to be fair to teachers, but much more they should be fair to kids. That means doing everything possible to ensure they get good teachers—by singling out and rewarding the best—and avoid bad teachers—by helping them to improve or encouraging them to go on to some other career where they can be successful.