In a recent article for Slate, Ryan Fisman reflects on the current emphasis on teacher effectiveness. Is firing bad instructors the only way to improve schools? According to new research, maybe not. Few districts have the “luxury” of being able to fire low-performing teachers and replacing them with more effective ones.
This being the case, how else can schools be improved? According to new studies from psychologists, economists, and educators, it may be possible to improve low-performing teachers, rather than firing them. “If these studies can be replicated throughout entire school systems and across the country, we may be at the beginning of a revolution that will build a better educational system for America,” writes Fisman.
For example, Cincinnati’s teacher evaluation system (discussed here) focuses on meaningful feedback and coaching as part of teacher evaluations and was phased in gradually. These methods hold promise for improving teacher quality; teacher performance, rather than jumping for a year or two and then settling back to its original level, has been on the increase since implementation in 2000. And the expense of “creating” a better teacher is fairly modest—about $7,000 per teacher.
Another recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research focused on “loss aversion” and how it might affect teacher performance. Rather than paying for performance, the study involved giving teachers an upfront bonus, with the understanding that some (or all) would have to be paid back if their students failed to meet performance targets. The authors believe the “loss incentive” was extremely motivating, enough to transfer a bad teacher into a mediocre one, or to make average teachers excellent.
Fisman realizes it is unlikely that a “pedagogical silver bullet that makes a great teacher” will ever be found (despite the large sums being spent to discover it). However, it may be possible to find individual interventions that “do have outsized effects on student learning.”
To read the full article, please visit http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/2012/07/how_to_improve_teaching_new_evidence_that_poor_teachers_can_learn_to_be_good_ones_.html